UWICE to find out how Elephants and Tigers climbed mountains and how Cranes moved south

The impact of climate change on animals is evident from the burgeoning reports of birds and animals sighted in places never reported before.

Tigers in Bhutan have climbed to the ice-capped mountains at an altitude of 4,300 meters above sea level and in another incident, a transient solitary Asiatic elephant, a sub-tropical species confined to low altitudes, better acclimatized and suited to hot and humid climatic condition ascended and scaled a snow-covered mountain at an elevation of 3,419  meters at Shougay La in Chukha earlier this year.

Black necked cranes in Bhutan are confined to places like Phobjikha and Khotokha in Wangdue, Geytsa, Chumey, Thangbi, Dhur and Tang in Bumthang and Bumdeling in Trashiyangtse. The oldest records with the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) reveal that a total of 255 birds landed in these places in the winter of 1991-1992.

Decades later, black necked cranes were sighted in places in the southern and warmer plains of Gelephu.

A sighting of Gaur, a large dark-coated bovine was also reported at Dangchu in Wangdue. This particular species was previously known to occur in the lowlands of Southern Bhutan especially Royal Manas National Park, Phipsoo Wildlife Sanctuary and Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary with elevation records up to 1500 meters.

Similar unconfirmed reports say that roadside workers have also sighted a solitary Gaur in the summer of 2011 in Pele-la area at an altitude of 3,300 meters.

Wildlife conservationist and climate change experts attribute this unusual range shift of animals, to the impacts of increasing global temperatures. Factors of climate change and global warming can have detrimental effects and could force animals to move away to other places suitable to their adaptability.

A UWICE official Sherub said “Until now we don’t have concrete data to determine the range shift but after 10 to 15 years, we will be able to understand the climate change and their impacts on animals”.

Camera traps will be deployed in varying altitudinal locations within the preserves to monitor animal populations. The camera traps will capture the images of animals occurring in the places they are deployed. Thus, they say will provide critical understanding on the animal populations and their movements.

After launch of its web portal ‘Eyes on Wild Bhutan,’ expected to be up and running by next year, Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) in Bumthang will be able to maintain a close tab on Bhutan’s biological diversity and how the species responds to climate change.

The institute will pursue this through establishment of research preserves. UWICE official Sherub said establishment of the preserve will also include representative ecosystem of Shingkharlauri, Sengor and Kheybeythang.

The study will monitor the long term changes in climate, animal populations and water quality in the areas. The rainfall and snowfall will also be recorded. This, officials believe will provide better insight into how wild animal species are negatively impacted by climate change.

The proposal for establishment of the research preserve was approved by the institute’s Board of Governors which also approved the monitoring of charismatic animal populations through GSM radio-telemetry.

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