Zhemgang district has 95 percent forest coverage, which makes it vulnerable to the Human- Wildlife Conflict (HWC), and it has always been a major issue there, with a huge number of wild animals, wherein people have started experiencing bears coming into the human settlements.
The farmers in Zhemgang have also started seeing tigers near their farms. And they worry that the HWC might worsen in the near future.
Kilkhar Chiwog faces major issue of HWC, whereby every year, they lose 50 percent of their farm produce and cattle to the wild animals.
People have adopted electric fencing and guarding their fields as mitigation measures, however, it is a 100 percent success. Electric fencing loses the effectiveness with time and it not effective against monkeys, deer and wild boars.
Given the seriousness of the issue, the government and farmers, in partnership, will be piloting a chain link fencing to mitigate the HWC in Kilkhar. 82 acres of land in Kilkhar will be fenced with chain link.
Officiating Dzongda, Ugyen Lhendup, said that there are different types of HWC, whereby they will need to have different kinds of controlling measures, which they do not have at the moment.
There are issues with the putting up electric fencing, he said, “The pole we use is a wooden pole that needs to be replaced every after two years. We cannot use anything other than the wooden pole due to cost implication. We need huge number of wooden poles to replace them. In the process, we have difficult time getting the permit, and it has negative impact on the natural resources.”
In addition, farmers will have to ensure no bushes are grown around the fencing for its effectiveness. However, they don’t see many farmers taking care of it, which ultimately leads to the ineffectiveness of the fencing.
Therefore, he said, “The Agriculture Ministry has come up with other means to address the HWC, which is construction of chain link fencing. It is expensive, but for the long run, this initiative would be the best, as it has the capacity to protect HWC to a larger extend. This will be constructed on a cost sharing basis.”
In terms of livestock, the conflict with tigers and bears has been reported. Concrete solution to address the HWC completely would be difficult, he added.
Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer, Jambay Ugyen, said that, in general, there is a decrease in agricultural crop output as 50 percent of the crops are lost to wildlife. Electric fencing is only the solution they have at the moment, but people are not serious, in terms of taking care of the fencing.
He said, “We have spent around Nu 1.5 mn for the construction of 45 km of electric fencing. Farmers are responsible for all the maintenance work. Now, as another alternative we are in the process of piloting with a 10.7 km chain link fencing in Thrisar under Shingkhar gewog.”
It is going to be expensive, wherein it would cost around Nu 1.6 mn per kilometer of the chain link fencing. There is a strategy criteria put in place, whereby priority to get the fencing will be given to areas of communal land, HWC hotspot and where the agriculture production is high.
Initiating the initiative, itself, is a challenge, he said, they have to convince people on why they choose the chain link facility, and the availability of labour from their end. After the construction, they will handover the fence and maintenance duty to the farmers.
“We are piloting at Thrisar and Kilkhar. Accordingly, the investment on the chain link will continue and they will propose in the 13th FYP,” he added.
Meanwhile, Tshering Norbu, Kilkhar Tshogpa said that HWC has been a major issue. The only mitigation they have is electric fencing and guarding the field for months.
The electric fencing has helped for the past 8 years and it still works, however, it is not as effective as it used to be. Despite having an electric fencing, the monkeys would still manage to come and destroy paddies to larger extent, he further stated.
He said, “People put in lots of hardwork, but at the end, they lose almost 50 percent of their crops to the wild animal, which is discouraging. Yet, they have no other option than to keep trying with all the means they can.”
They are now hopeful that the chain link initiative would be of great help to the farmers. They are ready to provide all the needed support, he said.
Farmer Thinley Tobgay shared, “We are struggling, having to fight for our living. Farming is only our source of income, but it really is disheartening to witness wildlife destroying all our hardwork. No matter how hard we try, we fail to protect our crops.”
Nevertheless, he said that they do not have other alternatives then to keep trying and find the means to mitigate the HWC.
This story is supported by Global Environment Facility- UNDP Bhutan Ecotourism Project under the Department of Torusim, Bhutan and Journalist Association of Bhutan.