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Securing a future for Tigers
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Even as conservationists struggle to save the dwindling population of wild tigers on earth, Bhutan was becoming a model for other countries to emulate say world tiger experts. "Bhutan is not only a friendly home of tigers but its tiger conservation is a model programme for the world," said Tiger expert and chairman of Save the Tiger Fund, Mr. John Seidensticker. Mr. John Seidensticker was among the 23 conservation scientists and tiger experts from the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Germany and India who met in Paro from September 13-16 along with Bhutanese officials and experts to prepare the second Tiger Action Plan for conserving tigers in the country.

The Tiger Action Plan 2005-2015 will be the guiding document for all tiger conservation efforts in future in Bhutan.

The four-day conference took stock of the previous tiger plan and inputs from conservation scientists and tiger experts were sought to address the biological, ecological, social and economic aspects of tiger conservation, evaluation and monitoring plans, to frame a comprehensive "middle path" strategy.

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Solutions to the problem
Killing the boar and protecting the livestock were the best solution to dealing with the wild boar and wild dog problem according to a participant at the tiger conference, Dr. A.J.T.Johnsingh the dean and faculty of wildlife sciences of Wildlife Institute of India, in Dehradun. Dr. Johnsingh, who has done extensive research on wild dogs and wild boars saidl that there were about 11 subspecies of wild dogs, four of which were in the Indian subcontinent. Of the four subspecies, two subspecies possibly lived in Bhutan - one along the southern and middle hills and the other in the upper regions of places like in the Jigme Dorji National Park.

"Bhutan with almost 70 percent of forest cover and with the species like Sambar, wildboar, barking deer, and the practice of letting cattle free in the forest, was a great place for wild dogs," he said. To control the crop losses to boars the most effective way, he said, was to encourage farmers to kill boars within the fields as much as possible by shooting and setting traps and nooses. "That will not deplete wild pig population because they are prolific breeders and omnivorous eating just about every plant and root." He also said that Bhutan could start an eco-tourism programme with boar hunting near the farm fields as an attraction.

Dr. Johnsingh said that to minimise the loss of livestock to wild dogs, farmers should not leave their cattle and horses for long in the forest which was the main cause for the wild dog attack. "They should take the cattle to the forest and bring them back in the evening." A study found out that in Thinleygang, in Emyu village, villagers did not lose much livestock to predators because they did not leave livestock in the forest.

According to conservation scientists the first Bhutan tiger action plan published in 1998 was a model for the rest of Asia. "The plan will ensure the sustainability of tiger population in the country," said the joint director of the Nature Conservation Division, Dr. Sangay Wangchuk, which organised the conference.

Tiger expert Mr. John Seidensticker told Kuensel that the task of saving tigers or any other endangered species was never done because conditions changed and being able to adapt conservation strategies with the changing conditions was a challenge. "Tigers in Bhutan are not in a difficult situation as in other places," Mr. Seidensticker said. "That creates an enormous potential for conservation. About 50 percent of Bhutan's area has potential tiger habitat. And that gives a good foothold for tigers."

For Tigers to survive, he said, they must be managed at a landscape scale and must include core areas like national parks, biological corridors and other reserves for protection where tigers and their prey were fully protected. That was the ecological approach to conserving tigers and Bhutan was doing all that effectively, he said. In addition, he said, Bhutan had a strong national forest and wildlife protection law that provided for the conservation and protection of both habitat and endangered species. "I believe no one is doing better than Bhutan. I don't think that many places have much to teach Bhutan about large carnivore conservation."

Mr. John Seidensticker said that Bhutan's tiger landscape today ranked as one of Asia's most significant and anchors which could become one of the world's largest tiger landscape. However there were many challenges ahead, the biggest one being the human wildlife conflict, said the expert. "Securing a future for tigers is impossible without the support of the people. Our strategies needs how best to address that problem," said Mr. Seidensticker.

In that context Bhutan's tiger compensation programme was a good start but it had to be a continuous learning process and should adapt to changing conditions. "The best way to make the compensation programme effective is to let people know about the programme- to let them know that they are not alone in their loss and that other people do care and want to help," said Mr. Seidensticker. Compensation claims should be quickly established and money dibursed as soon as possible. That was the key to the success of the programme, he said.

"Tiger conservation goes to the heart of conservation," said Mr. Seidensticker. Quoting an American conservationist, he added: "If we save the tigers, we get to keep the planet."

Contributed by Kencho Wangdi, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper 2006
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