Bhutan Big Cat Increase Requires Redoubled Efforts To Control Conflict As Cats Are Eating More livestock

Tiny Bhutan has recently reported dramatic population increases among two of its largest predators. Tigers (Panthera tigris) have increased in that country by 27 percent. We recently reported that snow leopards (Panthera uncia) are up about 40 percent. Rising Bhutan big cat numbers are increasing the risk of more conflict with the nation’s residents. There are also a number of true leopards (Panthera pardus) in the region.

Seating Buddha looking over the town of Paro, Bhutan.
Seating Buddha looking over the town of Paro, Bhutan. by Prashant is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0Bhutan is a tiny country between India and China. So far it has been a hospitable place for both tigers and snow leopards. But conflicts with livestock owners may change that.

The Bhutan tiger count is now 127, and was celebrated July 29 2023 during International Tiger Day. Bhutan, India and Nepal all have increased their tiger numbers. The international goal set in 2010 is to double the number of wild tigers. That goal is far from being reached, although the governments involved are all pledging to do so.

The obvious problem is that big cats have big appetites and sometimes eat livestock as an easy meal. Bhutan has a reputation for tolerance in all things and revenge killings have been rare. But efforts are underway to reduce conflict.

Tiger drawing, wildlife vintage illustration
Tigers are increasing in number in Bhutan and are preying on free roaming livestock.

According to Mongabay probems are increasing with the rise in numbers of the Bhutan big cat.

“Bhutan’s first tiger survey in 2014-15 estimated 103 individuals. The second survey, due to be published in early 2023, will show an increase, says Tshering Tempa of the Bhutan Tiger Center (BTC), part of the Department of Forests and Park Services. (Ed: the survey was released and showed the increase to 127),

“The overall population increase has been hailed as a success, but many experts warn the new figures may be results of improved monitoring technology, such as camera traps, rather than a real increase in individual tigers. Abishek Harihar, tiger program deputy director at wild cat NGO Panthera, suggests “cautious optimism,” and points to wider survey areas and a better understanding of tiger habitat as possible explanations — conservation progress, albeit of a different kind.

Panthera is an international conservation organization focusing solely on felines.

Whether there are truly more tigers or the reality is as Harihar cautions, one thing seems clear in Bhutan: there are more cases of big cats preying on livestock.

Almost 60% of Bhutanese people live in rural areas, some of them in protected areas. Livestock roam freely, making them easy prey for tigers.” Links in original.

Mongabay quoted Tshering Tempa of the BTC:

“The BTC’s Conservation Through Compassion program aimed to improve the livelihoods of communities experiencing human-wildlife conflict, for example by providing poachers with other means to make a living. But Tempa says their efforts didn’t reach all affected communities and didn’t involve enough people on the frontline.

“We still encourage people to join the Conservation Through Compassion program, but we have now also initiated a community-based tiger conservation program,” he says.

The Gewog Tiger Conservation Tshogpa (GTCT), still in its first year, is an organization run locally by communities, decentralizing the system of compensation and management, with seed money from the BTC. Livestock owners pay an annual premium (around $2 to $5 depending on the breed) to insure their cattle in the program. The pilot project has been rolled out in six gewogs, or counties, with a fund of 1 million ngultrum each, which also accrues interest for the communities.

close up photography of tiger
Who Me? Snow leopards and tigers and true leopards are all found in Bhutan and seem to be increasingly interested in a livestock meal. Photo by Charles Miller on

Community members use a mobile app to immediately report livestock killings to the Tiger Quick Response Team, which follows up to verify and, if appropriate, compensate.

National Zoological Park, Yak
Yaks are among the most important livestock animals in Bhutan

“It has been very successful, so we are implementing it in six more gewogs,” Tempa says. “My colleagues are in the field now, meeting the communities, educating them on the programs we want to introduce.””

The Bhutan big cat increase may benefit strongly from the new more people centric approach. That approach, recognizing the needs of both people and animals, has recently been championed by the World Wildlife Federation.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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