Photo: Vanishing Treasures

Conservation of waterholes key to help keep wildlife away from human settlements

The intervention of habitat management under Bhutan For Life (BFL) has shown positive results in the use of improved habitats by the wildlife. Waterhole is one of the activities carried out under the project, to avoid wildlife coming into the human settlements, and to avoid any sort of human-wildlife conflict.

A waterhole plays a vital role in regulating animal behavior, and they influence the functioning of the ecosystem.

Water is the top requirement of any living being, besides food. However, water requirement increases mostly during the drier months of the year, and this is the season where animals tend to move in search of water.

During these movements, some animals tend to cross through human settlements, and come into conflict with humans. Waterholes are those small natural water ponds that collect and hold water as a result of the depression on the ground level.

Chief of Nature Conservation Division (NCD) and also Program Director of BFL, Sonam Wangdi, said that it is important to know the water availability in the natural habitat, and where required, intervention is done by either digging up new waterholes or improving the existing ones, so as to keep the wildlife in their own natural habitats.

Waterholes can also be artificially created in places where there are no natural waterholes. This is done by excavating ground materials and then ensuring a continuous supply of water in the excavated depression to help wildlife in the area with a source of water supply. 

He added, “All the waterholes in the wilderness areas are either revived or improved. And the minimal monitoring of its successes using camera traps has not recorded any incidences of wildlife conflict among inter or intra species.”

The camera traps have recorded many different species of wildlife coming to waterholes to drink water. On 21 August, a photo of tiger was captured in one of the waterhole management sites. A Samber deer has been captured in photo. These are evidences of the success of having waterholes in wilderness, so that the wild animals do not have to wonder into a human settlement.

He said that in the past 2 and half year of BFL implementation, maximum fund support has either gone for the revival of dried-up waterhole and to the improvement of existing waterholes. The improvements of waterholes are done to increase the size of waterholes. There has not been any major new waterhole creation, he added.

Communities in most of the Protected Areas (PAs) are engaged in creating new waterholes, as it is labour intensive work. However, in some PAs, like the Royal Manas National Park, he said that as a part of Hunter to Hermit Program, they have communities who are engaged in cleaning and maintaining waterholes on a regular basis.

“This program has converted those hunters to community conservation heroes, as they are now engaged more and more into aiding conservation works for the park due to their knowledge of the wildlife,” he added.  

Until now, the interventions for any habitat management were done through visual or some basic assessments, he said, adding that now, after implementation of habitat management guidelines, everyone has a guide to follow on the intervention for habitat management with the assessment of the habitat.

The guideline was developed by the NCD and the development of this guideline is also supported by BFL. 

He said, “Habitat management, currently, is carried out for Alpine habitat (maintaining alpine meadows), managing the existing waterholes and creating new waterholes, managing and enriching natural salt and mineral licks and lowland grassland management, especially those grasslands in the south which serves as an important habitat for tigers and their prey, and habitat for elephants.” 

BFL has US$ 43 million fund, spread over a period of 14 years, to permanently protect Bhutan’s network of PAs, while NCD looks after conservation program that happens in all PAs as well as outside of the PAs.

BFL was created under the auspices of Royal Charter granted by His Majesty The King on 27 July 2018.

The project is clearly spelled out in conservation plan and a financial model that has 16 milestones and more than 80 activities. The project supports activities that were mapped out as financing gap for the government, starting from 2013 and towards the end of 2016.

Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen launched BFL on 11 November 2017 coinciding with the Birth Anniversary of His Majesty The Fourth King.   

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