Thursday, 10 January 2019

Six Years in JSWNP: Leaving with sensational memoirs


In the January of 2013, the sky over Thimphu valley was adorned with magical clouds and passes of Dochula got wrapped with the first snow fall of the year. It was a moment where people rejoiced in snow but I was to take a long ride, crossing the passes of Dochula and Pelela, to land at Tshangkha, officially joining the management of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park as a civil servant. Referring back into my blogpost, it read that I had quite boring days in the beginning without knowing what I should do in the office, but my pace of exploring JSWNP gradually picked up and nothing really seems to have left unexplored as years rolled on. January 2019 marks the completion of my 6 years in JSWNP and out of blue, we had one of the chilliest evenings and crystalline flakes have started falling, though it didn’t whiten the ground. Today I am to finally part from JSWNP and it is coincidentally auspicious that my joining JSWNP and leaving JSWNP had the heavens showing me with white crystalline flakes, an angelic synchrony.
Last image from JSWNP


Six glorious years in JSWNP! I can only feel that JSWNP has shaped me into a better public servant owing to the exciting working environment, the vast opportunities for professional development, and the wonderful support and guidance from the management, though some odds are obviously inevitable. I joined JSWNP at a time when Park Manager was the lone official with degree higher than Bachelors and officials documentations concerning writing and publication was lacking much behind. As the first Forestry Officer to assist the park manager, I got ample opportunities to contribute towards conservation works in JSWNP, of course, through many trials and errors. From updating the much awaited Conservation Management Plan for the Park to framing project proposals to implement the Management plan, transforming the tiring efforts of frontline staffs into official documents to exploring every nook and cranny of the park with much endurance, I feel I did I am supposed to do as a young officer. Yet, all the feats that has been achieved were only possible due to the collective effort of the colleagues and constant guidance from the Chief, without which I could not have developed myself professionally to where I am today, a civil servant with six years of full experience. Above all, I am glad to have received my first promotion while I am still serving in JSWNP.
Fellow awardees during my first Promotion


As I leave JSWNP today, I am not sure what good traces I am leaving behind with, but I am definitely leaving with sensational memoirs. Being the first office I served with, I will always have an emotional attachment with the park itself and of course with the wonderful colleagues that I have worked together here. Most of our friends are not only good human beings but dedicated civil servants, whose continued service can lead JSWNP further on the conservation ladder, making it the real conservation jewel in the country. While good things are too numerous to jot down here, I leave JSWNP with three messages;
  1. A message of gratitude: Words are not enough to express my gratitude to the wonderful support given by my Chiefs and colleagues I have worked together. I only feel that you all have shaped me into a better civil servant, and whatever good traits that are developed in me, its because of you all. Thank you from the core of my heart.
  2. A message of apology and forgiveness: Having worked together for long, in one way or the other, I would have hurt the sentiment of many of my friends, mostly out of my ignorance, therefore, I apologize for my wrongs and seek your forgiveness.
  3. An urge to serve with humility and dedication: Whatever we have attained today, be it professionally or personally, it is all because we have a tag, “civil servant”. While many of our friends in JSWNP are dedicated servants, I urge my friends to not become complacent in delivering the services. Get constantly reminded of the messages that His Majesty the King has conveyed, not to follow the 70:30 trap, be SMART (Sincerity, Mindfulness, Astuteness, Resilience, and Timelessness) servants and have a sense of belonging and accountability. We all have a have responsibility in Nation Building.

 
Last Family of JSWNP I lived with
As I bid farewell to JSWNP and join my new office at the Nature Conservation Division, I am hopeful that great experiences that I have acquired from JSWNP will remain a cornerstone for my future endeavours and I look forward to contributing the best to whatever responsibilities I am handed with.

Thank you and Tashi Delek
Letro

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Biological Corridor No. 8 of Bhutan- A Corridor of Hope for the Tigers


The biological corridors (BCs) of Bhutan are conservation area set aside to connect one or more protected areas (PA) to facilitate wildlife movement. Eight in numbers and covering 8.61 percent of the total land area of Bhutan, BCs were first established in 1999, declared as a gift to the earth from people of Bhutan. With BCs added to the protected area network, today more than 50 percent of the country falls under the network known as Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex. Amongst other wildlife, the BCs are expected to enable safe migratory route for the tigers (Panthera tigris) between various protected areas in Bhutan.
Connecting Temperate Forests and Alpine Mountains- BC8 Landscape

Tiger is an iconic and charismatic species in Bhutan, which has great conservation significance both spiritually and scientifically. Spiritually, tigers are deeply revered in Bhutan’s Buddhist society with them featuring in many myths and legends such as the flying tigress of Taktshang (Tiger nest Monastry), the third animal of Buddhist zodiac, the four most powerful animals (the other three being Snow Lion, Garuda and Dragon which are all non-existent), etc. Tiger’s therefore, connects myth with reality. Tiger masked dances are portrayed during festivals, and are also beautifully painted on the walls of the buildings. Therefore, people in general have basic knowledge about tiger and have reverence towards it. On the ecological front, tiger is the largest carnivore found throughout Bhutan and play an important role in maintaining a viable ecosystem. Many conservation efforts are driven by tiger, thus serving as an important flagship species for the Himalayan kingdom.
The Location of BC8 in Bhutan

103 tigers were counted across Bhutan during the National Tiger Survey in 2015 but density were higher in certain pockets of the country. The tiger rich protected areas include Royal Manas National Park in the south and Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park in central Bhutan. Wangchuck Centennial National Park, the largest protected area in northern Bhutan, on the other hand have fewer tiger number. The Biological Corridor No. 8 (BC8), which connects JSWNP with WCNP is therefore expected to help in enabling safe dispersal of tiger from the tiger rich PAs in south to the northern PAs. With tigers recorded at elevations as high as 4500 metres, WCNP despite most of its area being alpine region, have potential to hold more tigers than it does today.

Studies reported prey abundance as a strong determinant for tiger occurrence so with a goal to assess the structural connectivity of BC8, I conducted a field study using remote camera traps in the BC8 in the spring of 2018. Occupancy modeling was done for the primary prey species such as Sambar (Rusa unicolor), Wild boar (Sus scrofa) and Barking deer (Muntjac muntjiacus) taking into account various ecological and anthropogenic covariates. With one or the other primary prey species recorded in 65 percent of the total camera stations, the BC exhibited good occupancy of prey species. Species specific probability of occurrence for all three primary prey species were over 50 percent. Therefore, it is very likely that the existing pattern of prey occupancy will attract tiger to move through the corridor.

Interestingly, many of my camera traps also photo-captured tiger and upon careful examination of the tiger images, two tiger individuals were positively identified based on its unique stripping pattern. Predicted habitat use probability of tiger in BC8 from the study indicated possible habitat for the third tiger during the season, though I could not ascertain the tiger captured from that habitat as a unique individual as I could not obtain image of both the flanks of the tigers. Thus, the study affirmed that BC8 is indispensable for tigers either and their home range or for using as dispersal corridor. Also captured in the camera traps were four other wild felid species (common leopard, clouded leopard, Asiatic golden cat, marbled cat), Himalayan black bear, musk deer, serow, goral, etc.., stressing the need to protect the landscape.


On the contrary, while the corridors were designed some decades ago, many people are still oblivious about the existence of it in their locality, which is an insult to the conservation practitioners. It only indicates the lack of conservation awareness education among the indigenous peoples. It was also disheartening to learn from the nomadic herders and agro pastoralists, how the tigers were a nuisance for them with tiger killing many of their livestock. For an instance, tiger killed 3 study yaks of Mr. Wangdi in a single season alone, and social interaction among the herders shared similar stories. This gives a clue that tigers are clearly fighting for their existence with dependency on domestic prey. Tiger’s unusual behaviour contradicting the probability of prey occupancy raises more question on what is wrong in the corridor and how to rectify it? While it was sad to hear about their losses, yet it was appealing to learn that there were no stories of retaliation in the region and people still have reverence for the animal, which in itself builds hope for the conservationist.
Author during the field work (T-1 Location)
As I accomplished the field work and looked into the results of my analysis, I felt the urgency in the need to educate the local indigenous herders about the concept of biological corridors to them and the crucial need for tiger conservation considering the current global threats and its risk of extinction. It is also equally vital to look into the depredation incidences and seek innovative mitigation measures so that we can transform the local people as partners of conservation. Tigers require large areas to establish their territories and as tiger population increases in the protected areas like RMNP and JSWNP, they will venture out. With the big cats dwindling in numbers across their ranges worldwide, Bhutan’s network of protected areas are providing safe haven for the species to thrive. Capturing tigers in the biological corridor strengthens our conviction that BC8 is already exhibiting its functional connectivity. With the concerned authorities looking seriously into social issues and heightening SMART patrols and constant monitoring, the Biological Corridor No. 8 will continue to remain a Corridor of Hope for Tigers and raises hope for other others in the landscape. Bhutan can ensure that this magnificent and fierce species does not blink out of existence.

Note: My research in the BC 8 was funded by the National Geographic Society and MBZ Species Conservation Fund, with reassuring support from Department of Forests and Park Services (NCD and JSWNP).



Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Graduation, an accomplishment for a continuous journey with added responsibility.


Exactly six years ago, in September 2012, I graduated from Birsa Agricultural University, Ranchi, India with a Bachelor's degree. While I was happy with a degree in hand then, my emotions were intense. I graduated in Forestry with a very good grade but I was anxious about where I will land. I was afraid if I would get a job because it was in that year that over a score of students with the degree in forestry specialization graduated, unlike the previous years where only a few did. Besides, I was also very anxious about if I could compete with the fellow graduates of that year as my date of graduation was lagging behind for writing the civil service examinations, through which we are tested to get a government job. As I recall my graduation day then, I have very vague memories of jubilation but with more worry and anxiousness. However, not only did I made in time to compete in the exams but also secured top positions in our category of examination to get a job placement of my choice, for I believed, destiny is a matter of choices, not a matter of chances. 
The two Universities I attended

No sooner did I joined my career in conservation than I had the dream of pursuing my higher studies in the field of conservation. As soon as my obligation as per civil service rules were fulfilled, I aspired to pursue my Master's degree, and lucky enough, I got selected in a master's programme of my interest and choice right after the completion of three years obligatory service for pursuing higher studies. Master of Science in Landscape Ecology and Nature Conservation at the University of Greifswald became my destiny of choice in August 2016. And exactly after six years since my graduation with Bachelor of Science degree from India, September 2018 marked yet another achievement in my life from Germany. I felt immense joy when I could successfully present my master thesis, the last hurdle in accomplishing a Master of Science degree in my programme, Landscape Ecology and Nature Conservation. 
My Thesis Supervisor, Prof. Dr. Klaus Fischer and Course Coordinator Dr. Tiemo

This time, it was totally a different feeling from what I went through in 2012 after graduation. Being a kid raised by single mother in a far-flung remote village, I was always able to set the best precedence to my fellow village kids. I may not be the best but what I gave was my best and my best effort always yielded satisfying results at the end. I am glad, I could achieve this and make my mother and siblings proud. I am humbled as I set a higher precedence record for my fellow younger village kids by becoming the first to attain a masters degree from our small hamlet of Darlo. I feel satisfied with the thesis I wrote as it addressed one pertinent gap in conservation in Bhutan; assessing the structural connectivity of a biological corridor for tiger movement between national parks in Bhutan, and more than glad that my peers in the department have now started following my suite in studying in Germany by availing the prestigious DAAD scholarship. And this time as a fresh graduate as I return home, I don't have to be anxious about my job placements as the Royal Government of Bhutan has securely reserved my place to take conservation actions forward with my enhanced professional knowledge. Therefore, this graduation brings in me a sense of jubilation, accomplishment, humbleness, with a deep sense of gratitude to many people who helped me fare the journey well, and of course with more responsibility.

Therefore, as I look forward to making significant contributions towards conservation of nature, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all my teachers of the past and present, my professional mentors, and peers in conservation fraternity, my fellow colleagues at my previous workplace (Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park), my college mates who sailed along with me during the last 26 months, my old friends and and newly acquainted friends who praised me for the sake of my happiness and who criticized me with concerns for my weakness, and my parents and relatives, for their good wishes, concerns and continuous support. 
Three angels of my life, mom, sas, and my better half.

Lastly, I am more than fortunate to have the continuous showering of love from two indispensable, indomitable ladies of my life, my dear mom who is gracefully aging with prayers for my betterment and success, and my dear sister who shouldered the responsibility of our father in keeping our mother hopeful and happy, and making immense sacrifices to enable her younger siblings stand on their own feet. I cannot be luckier than this, yet I asked more from my triple gem, for the third lady who would accompany me through my thicks and thins in the remaining journey of my life and finally, I am blessed as prayed. I feel complete with the unwavering support of my dear wife. It was since our first meet that I saw more positivity in my life, and with three angels in my life, I cannot be happier. I dedicate this special accomplishment of mine to three ladies of my life. 

With blessing from almighty, may the journey ahead be successful.


Thank you,

Letro.





Friday, 31 August 2018

Structural Connectivity of BC in Bhutan, an Abstract


The ability of animals to move across complex landscapes is critical for maintaining viable populations in the landscape. For an apex predator like the tiger (Panthera tigris), which is territorial and requiring large home range, habitat connectivity through biological corridors is vital. In Bhutan, the landscape conservation approach for tiger was initiated since 1999 when biological corridors were first established. Yet, the status of connectivity is not widely known. This study assessed the structural connectivity of biological corridor number 8 (BC8) for the tiger movements between national parks considering the ecological and anthropogenic variables influencing tiger and its prey. 

Camera trap datasets were used to assess the single-season occupancy of three principal prey species of tiger, sambar (Rusa unicolor), barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), and wild boar (Sus scrofa), and to determine the habitat use probability of tiger. A questionnaire survey was administered to assess the current trends of human-tiger conflict, and people’s perception towards conservation. 

Barking deer had the highest occupancy estimate (ψ ± SE) 0.52 ± 0.09, followed by sambar (ψ ± SE) 0.49 ± 0.03 and wild boar (ψ ± SE) 0.45 ± 0.07. The influence of ecological and anthropogenic variables like elevation, aspect, slope, distance to river, and distance to settlement varied among the three prey species. Predicted occupancy map showed probable niche partitioning between species, thereby enabling better distribution of principal prey and thus the connectivity. Tiger habitat use probability was influenced positively by elevation and negatively by aspect and slope. Livestock predation was the prevailing human-tiger conflict in the area with tiger accounting 76.49% of the total kill in the past two years. Nomads were more vulnerable than agro-pastoralists, and livestock predation was higher during the winter. Over 80% of the respondents were not aware of biological corridors and over 30% perceived negative attitude towards tiger conservation and corridor management. 

The structural connectivity maintained by ecological variables and prey species would enable tiger movements across the BC8, but human-tiger conflict needs to be mitigated, and people should be educated for conservation. Management of the BC8 by developing the management plan remains the most pressing need. 

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Biological Corridor and Communities in Bhutan, Connectivity at a crossroad

Neither too low into the tropical jungles, and nor too high touching the alpine mountains, but in between are the temperate hills adorned with cool broadleaved forests and mixed conifer trees. Neither a sacred sanctuary of wildlife with strict protections, nor an edge facing the adversity of multifarious modern development, but it is the landscape with purpose; of maintaining diversity, of sustaining community, and most indispensably, of securing connectivity. They are the biological corridors (BCs) of Bhutan, set aside to connect one or more protected areas (PA) and facilitate wildlife movement, first established in 1999, as a gift to the earth from people of Bhutan. Eight in numbers and covering 8.61% of Bhutan’s total area, the BCs together with the PAs today forms the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex (B2C2), expanding over 50% of the country.
Pristine Forests of Biological Corridor 8 connecting JSWNP to WCNP, as seen from Black Mountains of JSWNP

While the BCs together with the PAs create a beautiful mosaic of a conservation area in Bhutan, little is known about the actual connectivity enabled by the BCs. Conservation funds increased manifolds in the PAs but the indispensable BCs remained neglected. Wildlife thrived in the protected sanctuaries but their status remains ambiguous in the BCs. Park community livelihood was diversified but little did we know that communities at the fringes of BCs were trying their best for the sympatric association with the wildlife around them.  

With an objective to assess the structural connectivity of BC for enabling tiger movement between the national parks, I embarked on a new conservation journey in the spring of 2018. My priority amongst the 8 BCs was for BC8 that is the often called the northern corridor, as it connects parks of central Bhutan like Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (JSWNP) and Phrumsengla National Park with protected areas in the north viz, Jigme Dorji National Park, Wangchuck Centennial National Park (WCNP), and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary. Further, I concentrated my work in the portion of BC8 that connects JSWNP with WCNP encompassing an area of 240 sq.km. JSWNP together with Royal Manas National Park (RMNP) was found to be home to around 27 tigers and are described as a potential source population for tigers. The tiger, despite having records of going as high as 4500 masl, the density is much lower in WCNP and its adjacent northern PAs. The sound management of BC8 is vital for population dispersal of tigers from RMNP and JSWNP to northern PAs. I, therefore, felt it’s vital that the structural connectivity is assessed soon, least we know the functional connectivity. Being a Landscape Ecology and Nature Conservation graduate student, I felt the responsibility has befallen me, thus I took the determination to set out.
Late March 2018, researchers marching in snow in BC 8 (3800 masl)

Late March, yet the winter doesn’t seem to have passed the temperate forests of BC8. The first night we were out in the forests and the next morning, we found that we were shrouded under the thick blanket of snow. I was accompanied by two research assistants and two field guides who also served as porters, traversing the hills and meadows which were yet to sprout. In Bhutan, field survey works are strenuous with no access to roads and we have to always hire porters. As per my study design, I am required to cover the entire study area of 240 sq.km within a short duration of one month, to assess the landscape structure, prevalence of large carnivores like tiger and to ascertain the occurrence of ungulate species which are proxy of landscape structure for enabling migratory corridor for large carnivore like tiger. While I will scan the entire area for indirect wildlife evidence like pellets and droppings of sambar or deer and scats of tiger and other felids, I also took along a score of camera traps to be set up for remotely triggering to capture the real-time presence of the species. Besides, I also had to meet many yak herders from the communities in and around the BC to hear their stories on wildlife and to know their perception towards BC and conservation, as I learned that the designated BC 8 is indeed core winter grazing sites for the nomadic herders in Sephu, Wangdue Phodrang. From May until October for six months, the nomadic yak herders move to their summer pasture in alpine meadows of WCNP.

While the snow made environment serene, it wasn’t really a perfect moment for a wildlife surveyor. The forest trails were slippery and there was no hope to find wildlife evidence with snow layering the ground. So I led my team to a community of nomads to hear their stories of herding yaks and encountering tigers. Amongst the nomads was Mr. Wangdi, with whom I had an intense interaction. At the age of 53, Wangdi is at his best with the chores that revolve around his 60 plus yaks, together with his wife and daughter. His winter grazing site falls completely within the BC boundary but he is oblivious of it. Indeed, Wangdi does not have any clue about what biological corridor is. However, he knows a good deal about the tiger and other wildlife. Wangdi has been interacting with wildlife since his childhood days and definitely, he would be familiar with wildlife as he is with his yaks. Out of curiosity, I asked him how often he saw a tiger live but he seems to have not seen it once. “The big animal is an emanation of our local deities so it will be always difficult to see,” he said. The tiger kills, as per their traditional belief, was often attributed to some karmic misfortunes in the family because he says that tiger kills the yaks of a particular family despite all neighbors freely leaving their yaks in the same open forests.
One of the Huts of Mr. Wangdi in BC 8.

Besides the tiger, there are other predators as well in the region. The wild dogs in pack hunt down big yaks and common leopards often take away the young calves. The Himalayan black bear, on the other hand, snatches the kill from tigers, as narrated by Mr. Wangdi. The landscape with forest connectivity hardly disturbed, and with the prevalence of diverse large carnivores, humans and livestock foraying into it means only the inevitable incidents of predation. It is, however, not a new phenomenon but for millennia, our farmers and wildlife have fared well in mutual coexistence. The nomadic herders in the region traditionally practiced Bon-Choe, a religious practice of believing in spirits and local deities with many ridges, trees, and cliffs declared as the abode of the spirits and deities and revering them sacred. Such practice instilled positive affinity towards nature and wildlife by the herders. Today as the shamanistic practice dwindled, herders understand the deeper Buddhist values and they have general abhorrence towards killing, being considered great sin. These are the major determinants of herders’ positive attitude towards wildlife, which enabled the human-wildlife coexistence.  But with changing times and in the face of increased depredation cases, the much-cherished ethic might face an abrupt end.
Chimmi, Wangdis daughter seen milking one of her Bjims.

Being a park official myself, I am aware of the efforts that conservationists put to build community stewardship towards the environment and make them conservation partners. I asked Wangdi if he was ever engaged in programmes developed by conservation agencies for the herders’ welfare but he looked awfully clueless. This was expected as the BCs received lesser priority for management as of now because of many constraints. Wangdi was quick to mention about an ad-hoc monetary compensation that he received for a number of yaks that he lost to tiger a few years ago. Wangdi feels that the tiger and other predators are increasing now with increased protection of wildlife. He lost three sturdy yaks to the tiger during the last winter, which accounts to an economic loss of around USD 1363 at the current market value. “It is a big loss for me and government is not consistent with monetary compensations,” says Wangdi, cautioning he might give up herding in the face of increased predation and better income opportunities. Monetary compensations, anyway were meagre in comparison to the losses that herders suffer.  Once, a normal acceptable phenomenon, his traditional belief is now replaced with expectations, and his age-old tolerance may soon see the substitution by arrogance. After all, why would a nomad care about the endangered species when he receives no tangible benefits of conservation in his backyard?

One of Wangdis yak succumbed to tiger injury in BC8, which was later feasted by bear and vultures.

By virtue of being a conservationist and a government official, it became my responsibility to share with him about the challenges that we face in pursuing conservation. Bhutan’s picturesque landscapes and rich biodiversity attracts high-end tourists, the revenue from which is shared by entire Bhutanese in the form of social services like free healthcare and education. Large cats like tigers are under constant threat from habitat loss and poaching, with the world population not more than 3800 individuals. Bhutan’s is lucky to harbour 103 of them, the number that thrived because of the harmonious coexistence between nature and our people. For a country like Bhutan, losing the tigers would also mean losing our rich cultural values. Tiger is the only animal that connects myth with reality in our Buddhist society. On the other hand, conservation in Bhutan is mostly donor-driven, and it is important that we make use of the fund in innovative ways than delivering measly monetary compensations. Biological corridors are vital for connecting the protected areas, therefore like people in the parks that foster to conservation needs, communities by the BCs will also form the ultimate connecting links.
The Stripe of BC 8 (May 2018)


The next three weeks, I continued with my field surveys and camera trap installation works, but recurring thoughts on the need to revive harmonious human-wildlife coexistence popped in my head. Neither do I want the landscape to be fragmented and tigers lost, nor do I want herders like Wangdi to suffer from predation and give up herding because sustaining both is a prerequisite of a vibrant connectivity. Will BC 8 serve as Corridor of Hope? 

Note: My research in the BC 8 was funded by the National Geographic Society and MBZ Species Conservation Fund, with reassuring support from Department of Forests and Park Services (NCD and JSWNP).

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Thank you, Your Majesty.

We the people of Bhutan are lucky to be blessed with Bodhisattava kings, under whose rein our nation is progressing with unprecedented development and our people prospering with unlimited peace. His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, with utmost love and compassion, never sleeps but travels the nation, reaching to every corner of the country for the welfare of we citizens. Citizens are inspired to live a better life. 
His Majesty in November 2017, with people of my village
However, for the people of my countryside, they are simply the most virtuous ones, with His Majesty visiting our village for two consecutive years. Last year in November, despite being totally exhausted, having just completed the most arduous snowman's trekking route meeting the people of far-flung villages, HM shared his precious time with the people of my village. How lucky my fellow villagers were. 


His Majesty offers Prayers in Busa Wangdue Goenpa Lhakhang, June 2018.
Not even a year and this year (30/06/18), his majesty again visits our sacred Busa Wangdue Goenpa lhakhang and offered a statue of Terton Dorji Lingpa. The Goenpa was founded in the 17th century by Tashi Tenzin, the Heart Son of Terton Dorji Lingpa. With immense excitement, our villagers have gathered at the Goenpa to welcome His Majesty the King and have HMs audience. His Majesty granted Tokha to people of five chewogs of Sephu gewog, who has swarmed in hundreds. Sephubs are extremely lucky to have met His Majesty and heard his words of wisdom which are precious than gold, not once but twice. More than anything, we are blessed to have the Statue as main Nangten of the temple, to which our people can prostrate and pray every time, not only for our own virtues but for His Majestys good health and long life, reminiscing HMs visit. 

Golden Statue of Terton Dorji Lingpa, offered by HM at Busa Wangdue Goenpa Lhakhang.

Yet again, the visit is taking place when HM is yet to take another arduous journey into the mountains to meet the fellow Highlanders. As HM takes this extremely risky trek through the snow-clad rocky mountains, I pray for my king's safe journey. We will never forget HMs selfless service for our welfare and I pledge to serve Tsa-wa-sum with utmost dedication.


Busa Wandue Goenpa Lhakhang

Monday, 12 March 2018

Local Effort, Global Award, Prize for Future?

It is always a moment of pride for me being a Bhutanese citizen when my country and my leaders are conferred with awards and accolades. While Bhutan is known worldwide mostly because of the developmental approach embracing sustainability in name of Gross National Happiness which have four pillars, Good governance, Sustainable socio-economic development, Preservation and promotion of culture, and Environmental Conservation, it is the progress in the fourth pillar that is often recognized and praised by the outside world. No doubt, Bhutan maintained centuries of self-imposed isolation with modern development commencing only in the 1960s when the first five-year plan was launched, so the Bhutanese younger generations have always inherited pristine and rich forest cover which are not infiltered for modern developmental greeds. Our successive kings have been so wise that when the country finally embraced modern development, a middle path approach was followed and natural resources are never compromised for the future generations. 
Source: Ashna Jawal
Pioneered by the Great Fourth, His majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, environmental conservation is taken very seriously in Bhutan with an entire article in the Constitution of Kingdom of Bhutan dedicated to environmental conservation, mandating 60% of the country to be kept under forests cover for all the time to come. Needless to say the awards won by His Majesty the Fourth King for he was a Champion of Environmental Conservation in Bhutan but in 2016, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lyonchen Dasho Tshering Tobgay was amongst one of the honorary laureates of the prestigious German Sustainability Award for promoting sustainability in Bhutan, indicating that Bhutanese political leaders are following the steps taken by our Monarchs in maintaining environmental sustainability. 

Fast forward, it is 2018 and yet again Bhutan perched on the top to receive the Earth Award at a ceremony in ITB (International Tourism Bourse) in Berlin, Germany. The award was received by the Tourism Council of Bhutan as the award was initiated to recognize and appreciate sustainable tourist destinations. While Bhutan being a green destination is because of the government's commitment towards environmental conservation, yet again, it is the far-sighted visions of our great Monarchs who introduced High-value Low-volume tourism policy to provide quality services to the guests and reduce negative impacts of tourism influx, that has enabled a sustainable and well-regulated flow of tourists visiting Bhutan. Bhutanese are lucky to have visionary monarchs, who not only ease the lives of our people today but also ensures a safe and secure place for the future generations. 

Our local efforts might be small at the global scale, but its impact on our living population is large. We should be humbled with the accolades and awards given by the world for the little efforts that we put but should be proud that it is reaching strong message to wider global scale. The awards also remind ourselves to be mindful of what we are actually planning and doing because, during each award session, our leaders give a lot of emphasis on what we are doing in the forefront of conservation and sustainability. For a small nation with even smaller population, a well-planned development can have a lasting impact than taking blind shorter steps to obtain easy recognition and early benefit for obtaining political mileage. In the next half-century, it will be even more proud for our children to have few naturally flowing rivers without being dammed, protected areas well secured without roads crisscrossing multiple times, rural settings undisturbed but well furnished with basic amenities, towns well-built with a perfect blend of traditional and innovative designs, our roads meandering through the green woods without scars of degradation, and most importantly the generation than be benefited immensely from the tourists who visit Bhutan with genuine sense of belief that Happiness is a Place. It will be a beautiful prize for our future leaders and citizens that we are yet to come.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Experiencing the Real Cold of Germany

This is my second winter in Germany and from the experience from last year, I was expecting the snow to fall by mid-February. However, we were experiencing an icy cold breeze, much colder than last year, but there was no sign of snowfall; the rivers and ponds were not frozen despite the cold. Rather it was drizzling when January came to an end, it was like spring has come. But I was wrong. The real European winter was not something which I experienced last year, but this year. The temperature plummeted below -5 degree Celsius most of the time and when I woke up in the morning on 27th February, to my pleasant surprise, there was a thick blanket of snow, and still falling. Little did I knew that it would continue for 3 consecutive days, to make the winter in Greifswald the coldest in recent years. One day I checked the temperature and it was negative 12 Degree Celcius during the day, something which I didn't experience even at the snow-clad mountain at the elevation of 4900 masl. 
The white carpet. 

Today is 5th March and despite not having snowfall for last 4 days, the footpaths are still remaining white. The spray of salty sands are hardly able to melt them but each passing night, it gets more frozen. The real cold of Germany is here. Even during the day, it gives such a chill through our spine while walking on the streets. If not of the insulated homes furnished with the continuous supply of heat, uninterrupted flow of water and undisturbed electricity, it will be real hellish cold here. 
It is also reported that Rome had snowfall after six years, and in Brussels, the homeless were detained if they are not sheltered well to protect from sub-zero temperature. In England, motorists were trapped, flights and trains cancelled as snow ramped up and over 50 deaths were linked to the cold conditions sweeping along the continent. The weather nicknamed "beast from the east" has indeed hit the whole of Europe, bringing snow and strong winds with further chill factor. Probably this winter will remain one of the coldest winters that I will experience in my life. 
Greifswald city covered in snow
On, the contrary, it is reported that the North Pole is warmer than Europe at this stage and climate scientists attribute such situations to anthropogenic climate change. It was reported that For the month of February, most of the inner Arctic was more than 5°C warmer than the 2004-2013 average, which means there will be more melting of arctic ices than usual, thus disrupting the ecosystem in the north pole. It is also an indication that global warming has now eroded the poles and there is limited time to act to reverse it. In the case of Bhutan, rapid receding of snowline was often mentioned by the regular yak herders, and for this year, my parents at home are complaining that it didn't snow. The symptoms of climate change are now severe and once which people considered anomalies to not have regular snow are now getting normal. 
Ice skating on the frozen pond. 
The pond near my hostel is also frozen and this indeed provided me with the chance to experience ice skating, something which I didn't experience last year. It was fun trying to balance on the skating shoe but it was painful to have numerous fall on the hardened ice. A good balancing power and concentrated composure is the key to successful skating, and I am glad I could get into that composure after few trials and errors. However, such an experience might be also my last experience since ice skating is not common in Bhutan, despite having Himalayas full of ice. On the other hand, with such erratic changes in weather pattern caused by global warming effects, irreversible climate change impacts won't let the younger generation in Europe have ice skating experiences on natural ice as we are doing today. With the human racing towards the global edge with greed, it calls for balance and composure to save our earth from anthropogenic climate change. The time is now to take urgent action against climate change and its impacts and meet Sustainable Development Goal 13. 



Monday, 26 February 2018

Youths United in Rome Conference to Halt Deforestation

An important international conference was held at the FAO Building in Rome last week (20-22/02/2018), "Working across Sectors to Halt Deforestation and Increase Forest Area - from Aspiration to Action". It is important in the sense that world's forests continue to shrink as human population increases and forest areas get converted into agriculture lands and other uses, with a deforestation rate such that in next 100 years, there will be no forest left on earth. Today the global forest area is 3,999.00 million hectares. Forests through its complex ecological system, on the other hand, provides a multitude of services like provisioning of food, fibre, fuel and fresh water; regulating the quality of air and extreme climates; supporting varied species habitats and maintaining genetic diversity; and of course a set of cultural services through recreation, aestheticism and spiritual experiences. Halting deforestation is the most pressing need of the planet of today. 
When world is in unity, halting deforestation will be possible and forests cover will increase

Through the continued efforts of the office bearers of International Forestry Students Association (IFSA), it has been made possible for the youths to take part in this crucial conference and around 50 youth delegates were selected from all over to represent the voices of youths for halting deforestation, a common aspiration. By virtue of being a student in Europe, my age doesn't bar from myself considering the youth, and it was a wonderful privilege that I have been one of the few selected delegates to attend the conference. The coordinating team from IFSA has already planned such that youths will be engaged in a day-long training session to equip the youth participants both in person and via online for accelerating efforts to halt deforestation through discourses on what is causing it and what global actions need to be taken? It was also a platform where youths propose ideas and messages for High-Level UN Political Agenda. The aspiration is to ensure and built a moment that is intergenerational and cross-sectoral, and to make sure that our collective change brings together a cohesive planet and halt deforestation. 
Youth Delegates Post Session Business
The training that was divided into three parts was intense but enriching where the youths were not only given theoretical backgrounds on "Thinking Landscape" and "Gender in Resource Management" by the subject experts but also rigorously engaging us in the group works and exercises that yielded striking outcomes. There are conflicting interests among competing land uses, which is the main reason leading to alarming deforestation and hampering positive progress, therefore thinking landscape and acting landscape is one of the best solutions to resolve the conflicts. This can best be achieved through "Understanding the Landscape", "Engagement of Every Stakeholder", "Engaging the Institutions", "Creating Landscape Market Values" and  "Effective Management" of the all these components, knowing that they are indispensable for each other in an intricate web. While understanding landscape approach is vital for halting deforestation, it is equally vital to mainstream gender equality in resolving the issues. We understand the need for gender equality but often fail to understand the full complexity of gender and its relevance to natural resource management. Through the role plays, we could demystify the gender complexity and could identify the asymmetries in power distribution across different societal actors, thus providing new insights, tools, and resources for accounting gender dimensions in halting deforestation. 

Furthermore, the youths also excepted ourselves as an important stakeholder in the effort towards hating deforestation so we got introduced to the important policies like UN Strategic Plan for Forests (UNSPF), to mobilize concrete actions and map out tangible implementation strategies and actions for such goals. This is being reiterated on the need to engage youths in important policy discussions and high-level conference so that they can reflect on the key discussions and share their ideas for possible action. As the conference progressed further, many youth delegates raised questions and sought clarification in most of the sessions and often vigours of youth in the form of shouting while applauding and letting the panels rise to shake with tunes in name of shaking coconut tree. This being observed by the highest level of delegates like ambassadors to UN FAO, they recognized the need to engage youth in such conferences in the future too. Moreover, the key messages for youths and by the youths from the present conference are also expected to be part of the final draft of the key messages of the conference, which will be presented at the 13th session of the UN Forum on Forests, this May. This is one big impact the unity of youth delegates have brought for actions towards halting deforestation. 

Besides, a smaller group of youth delegates too formed themselves into core team and tailored the entire session of the day in concise and digestible 15-minute online discourse, which the many aspiring youths who could not attend the conference in person can view it. I was not part of the core team, and work burden was lower for me. I am amazed at the energy and enthusiasm shown by the youth delegates and I felt that even at national level conferences, there is a need to engage youths and let them understand the processes of formulating high-level policy plans for the compelling social and ecological issues, after all, youths are not only the future leader but the general mass of the future world, who will face the consequences of today's plans and policies. 



The Rome conference in general is in pursuant towards fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals 15, Life on Land, target 15.2, which calls for halting deforestation by 2020 and the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-30 Global Forest Goal 1.1 that urges a reversal in loss of forest cover and increase forest area by 3% worldwide by 2030. I thank IFSA for accpeting my participation and sponsoring the trip. 


Saturday, 17 February 2018

Bhutan Radio collars her First Wild Tiger

Named, Tendrel Zangmo, meaning "auspicious omen"
Tiger collaring in process: (c) Kuensel
It was a pleasant surprise from a conservation hero and tiger biologist Dr. Tshering Tempa who is leading the tiger radio-collaring programme in Bhutan, when the news of the first tiger being collared made the headline in National Newspaper on the first day of the first months of Lunar Dog Year, Losar. A wonderful reason to celebrate the New Year and perhaps an "Auspicious Omen" for the future of tiger conservation in Bhutan. 

As per the new article, the tiger collared was a 3-year-old female, weighing 110 kgs and the team of foresters and Bhutanese biologists who made this major breakthrough in tiger conservation named her Tedndrel Zangmo, meaning "the auspicious omen". 

The tiger (Panthera tigris) is one of the largest carnivores in the world, with its range restricted in but widely spread across Asia, from Turkey in the west to the eastern coast of Russia. There are eight traditionally accepted subspecies of tigers but three subspecies were eradicated as early as the 1980s. Today there is less than 3200 adult tigers in the wild, spread across 7% of their historical range. They remain as one of the most threatened carnivores in the world and the species is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Loss of habitat, habitat fragmentation and losing landscape connectivity, prey depletion, and poaching are generally recognized as key threats leading to the decline of tiger population. 
Tiger in Subalpine Mountains of Bhutan
Panthera tigris tigris, the Bengal Tiger is the subspecies of tiger found in Indian sub-continent and neighboring states including Bhutan. While tiger population elsewhere are facing serious conservation threats, Bhutan's deep-rooted conservation ethos and reverence for tiger as one of the mystical creatures, have provided a safe haven for this animal to thrive. Conservation is further boasted through the visionary policies of our great Monarch with constitution mandating 60% forest cover for all the time to come, and designating over 50% of the country as protected areas and biological corridors. Through this conservation landscape, tigers roam between the country's subtropical jungles at an elevation less than 100 metres above sea level (masl) in Royal Manas National Park in the south to sub-alpine mountains as high as 4400 masl in Northern Wangchuck Centennial National Park. Therefore, Bhutan is the only tiger range country where Tiger and Snow Leopard habitat overlaps. Tiger is strictly protected under Scehdule I of the Forests and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan 1995, and people guilty of killing tiger are liable for a hefty fine of 1 million Ngultrum (15500.0 USD approx.). 
High-Resolution Image of Wild Tiger in Bhutan
On the forefront, foresters of Bhutan guard the tigers through intensive antipoaching patrolling using SMART tools and nation embarked to count the tigers using camera trap technology in 2014 and completed the survey successfully in 2015, counted 103 adult tigers with a density of 0.23 tigers per 100 sq.km. This is one of the significant findings in Dr. Tempa's work for this Ph.D. programme, which showed to the world that Bhutan can play a significant role as tiger source sites, in global tiger recovery programme of doubling the tiger number in the world by 2022, from the baseline of 2010. Bhutan otherwise was not included in a popular tiger conservation approach of securing 6% of the total tiger habitat as tiger source sites. While such findings are vital for letting the global community know of Bhutan's tiger conservation efforts, for the Bhutanese conservationist and biologists, it is our solemn duty safeguard our natural heritage with rich biological diversity and pass down to our younger generations, as did by our forefather to us. Successfully collaring Tendrel Zangmo under the leadership of Dr. Thsering Tempa, our own tiger biologists and programme director of Regional Tiger and Cat Research Centre in Bhutan, is but a testimony that we as conservationists can move with the global pace in using modern technologies in conservation, and address the challenging issues. 

Tiger collaring team back in 2015, off to field.
The radio-collared tiger has a transmitter attached around its neck, which sends the Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates every hour and the data will be recorded by the receiver by the researcher at the station. The data thus obtained can be very beneficial in understanding the movement pattern of the tiger, the use of migratory corridors, actual home range, etc., which in turn will help in identifying conservation interventions including mitigation of human-wildlife conflict, and preventing g poaching incidents 

I had the privilege of being in the core team of Tiger Radio Collaring Project when the maiden radio collar programme began in Royal Manas National Park in November 2015. A team of dedicated foresters, also led by Dr. Tempa tried our best effort to capture one but without success. Perhaps the time was not right then so it is awe-inspiring to learn that it has been a success this time; a great milestone for now and a great opportunity ahead. Congratulations to the Team. For me, it's a wonderful opportunity to have worked with a great tiger biologist of my times at home and have constant guidance and support from him, Thank you Dr. Tshering Tempa.
Letro: Twitter

P.S: I made a tweet of the news report and amazed to see my tweet getting the biggest toll of retweets and likes by the enthusiastic conservationists and feline lovers from worldwide. The news seems to have simply awed them.