A recent survey in the Royal Manas National Park has shown that the park has the world’s highest concentration of wild tigers.
This information was also officially submitted by the government to the UNESCO as part of its proposal to help get a World Heritage Site status for the Park (see UNESCO story on Pg 1).
The survey conducted by the Royal Manas National Park (RMNP) and Manas National Park (MNP) of India found scientific proof of a healthy tiger population of up to 35 tigers on the higher side and 25 tigers on the lower side.
This is in spite of the fact that the study did not cover the entire 1057 sq km Park but only 400 sq km using 102 camera traps.
Bhutan is one of the 13 tiger range countries in the world where wild tigers can be found. The other countries are Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The team captured more than 80 photographs of 14 individually identified tigers comprising of eight males and six females.
Five of the Tigers were captured separately in both MNP and RMNP, while four individuals were common to both the Parks collectively called the Trans-boundary Manas Conservation Complex (TMCC).
The study covers the range excluding the east and west side of the Park due to some technical difficulties.
Remotely triggered camera traps were used. The method was to use the capture-recapture framework to estimate the abundance and density of tigers in the TMCC.
According to the Park Manager of RMNP, Tenzin Wangchuk said till December 2011, the exact population of the tigers in the park was not known. “Now that we know, we can prioritize the management objectives,” he said.
“Further, to know the sight (skin pattern), it would be easier to locate them,” said a park official.
The team was able to photo capture different species of the big cat family from the sampled area with the help of camera traps. They found normal leopards, clouded leopards and leopard cats in abundant numbers in the area. Five pictures of the Golden Cat and one of the Marbled Cat was also captured on photo.
The abundance and density estimates for leopards and clouded leopards from MNP could be determined. About 27 individually identified leopards comprising 11 males and 13 females (sex of 3 unidentified) and 16 individually identified clouded leopards comprising 4 males and 5 females (sex of 7 unidentified), were found during the same survey period.
As per the report, based on the higher abundance and density estimates for leopard and clouded leopard compared to tigers, it is assumed that there may be a sympatric (occupying same area) competition for food and space in predator guilds (exploitation of resources in similar ways). Under these conditions, they recommend studies on intra-guild competition, prey selection and niche partitioning in future which will be useful for guiding the management of these sympatric carnivores in the park.
“It would be interesting to understand the intra-guild competition among these top predators and see how restricted habitat use and dietary overlap influence the abundance and distribution of tigers and other carnivores in TMCC,” stated the report
Through this study, the two countries are planning to start joint patrolling of the area to protect the Tiger population. As a start it has been suggested that the Park Managers and range authorities identify areas, frequency and mode of joint patrolling by forest staff at the field level for effective protection efforts.
The report recommends that information about illegal activities like poaching, logging and other wildlife crimes across the landscape should be directly shared with the highest levels of the park management so that subsequent directions for action can be intimated to the frontline staff.
The report says that a formal consultation mechanism at the Park Manager level can ensure regular meetings and discussion between the authorities of both MNP and RMNP. This is expected to aid in greater coordination in decision-making on issues of common interest for TMCC.
It is also suggested landscape conservation looking beyond the park corridors connecting RMNP to Phibsoo in the west and Khaling in the east inside Bhutan and Sunkosh to Dhansiri in India should be initiated at different levels to ensure long-term integrity of TMCC and its biodiversity.
TMCC is a transboundary park area having unique biological significance. It straddles the Indo-Bhutan border from the Ripu Reserve Forest in India in the west to Bhutan’s Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary in the east to Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park in Bhutan to the north. It encompasses the whole of India’s Manas Tiger Reserve and the protected areas in southern Bhutan.
The challenges in the area include poaching and illegal logging, logistics constraints, developmental activities, anthropogenic pressures (pressures from human settlement), research and monitoring limitations.
The survey and study had started by the end of 2010 and the final report is expected to be published soon.
The latest discovery that Bhutan’s RMNP has the world’s highest density of Tigers will come as one more major feather in Bhutan’s Tiger conservation cap.
Earlier in 2008-2009 Bhutanese park officials found proof of Royal Bengal Tigers at the highest ever recorded elevation of 4,200 meters. This was reported in the Bhutanese media. However, this was subsequently ‘re-discovered by a BBC team who gave international coverage thrusting Bhutan into the tiger conservation limelight.