The Ecology of Tigers in the Intact Asian Landscapes of Bhutan
Habitat loss, prey depletion and direct poaching are the major causes for declines of wild tigers in the wild throughout Asia. However, the Himalayan country of Bhutan has largely intact forest cover, a Buddhist culture that has largely lived in harmony with wildlife in the past, and abundant potential habitat for Bengal tigers from low elevations along the Indian border in the south of the country to recorded elevations as high as almost 4,000m. Thus, Bhutan may be an important country for conserving tigers in the future.
Despite this background, little information is known about tiger ecology in Bhutan. Preliminary studies conducted by Tshering Tempa, the PhD student leading this research initiative shows that areas such as Royal Manas National Park in southern Bhutan has both high overall wild felid diversity in general, but also relatively high tiger densities. What tiger densities are throughout Bhutan, what factors affect tiger distribution, and how tigers in Bhutan contribute to and are connected with Tigers throughout the rest of the Himalayan subcontinent are the objectives of this research. Specifically, we aim to use remote-camera trapping and non-invasive genetic sampling to address the following questions:
- What are the densities of Bengal tigers in mountainous terrain in Bhutan?
- Where are tigers and why are they there? Occupancy modeling for tigers and their prey species.
- What is the total population size of tigers in Bhutan?
- What is the genetic variation, population structure and gene flow of tigers in Bhutan?
Tempa defended his PhD proposal and passed his comprehensive exam in academic year 2012/2013, and will be in the field for the next 2 years. Field work started in Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (JSWNP) in April of 2013 and will be conducting camera trapping again this fall in 2013 in Royal Manas National Park (RMNP) following up on his surveys in 2011/12.
1) Tempa, T., M. Hebblewhite, L.S. Mills, N. Norbu, T. Wangchuk, T. Wangchuk, T. Nidup, P. Dendup, D. Wangchuk, Y. Wangdi, T. Dorji (2013). "Royal Manas National Park, Bhutan, as a wild felid biodiversity hot spot." Oryx 47(2): 207-210.
2) Tempa, T., Norbu, N., Dhendup, P. and Nidup, T. 2011. Results from A Camera Trapping Exercise for Estimating Tiger Population Size in the Lower Foothills of Royal Manas National Park. UWICE and RMNP: RGoB. Lamai Gompa, Bumtang.
Tshering Tempa (PhD Student, UWICE)
Nawang Norbu (UWICE)
Mark Hebblewhite (UM)
Scott Mills (UM/NC State)
Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park
Royal Manas National Park
Project Duration: 2012 - 2016