Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment

Lamai, Bhutan

Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment

Lamai, Bhutan
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Tshering K.,Thimphu Territorial Forest Division | Thinley P.,Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment
Pastoralism | Year: 2017

As in many developing countries, agro-pastoralism is the major form of livelihood for rural communities in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Although livestock rearing is part and parcel of rural Bhutanese agricultural system, Bhutan also has a high percentage of natural forest cover that supports a diversity of endangered wild predators. The loss of cattle to these predators is an on-going source of conflict between predators, farmers, and wildlife managers. Despite awareness of predation losses, there has been no empirical assessment of livestock herding practices in Bhutan in terms of livestock vulnerability to predation. We conducted a questionnaire and a field survey in three districts of western Bhutan to assess current livestock herding practices with regard to predation vulnerability. We interviewed farmers using a semi-structured questionnaire to determine their livestock herding practices and losses. We also traversed human trails in the nearby forests and took note of livestock encountered to gain further insights into herding dynamics. Generally, livestock were more vulnerable to predation when released into the forests without accompanying herders. Seasonally, livestock were more vulnerable during summer and early autumn, which coincided with the peak farming period during which animals are typically released into forests with minimal care. Our study underscores the importance of livestock herding with accompanying herders to minimize predation losses and highlights the challenges posed by farm labour shortage in rural areas. We recommend developing a comprehensive livestock management policy that includes elaborate provisions on reducing livestock losses through livestock herd management, stock improvement, fodder development, pasture development, and sustainable livestock insurance schemes. © 2017, The Author(s).

Berger J.,University of Montana | Berger J.,Wildlife Conservation Society | Schaller G.B.,Panthera | Cheng E.,Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment | And 4 more authors.
Scientific Reports | Year: 2015

In polar environments, a lack of empirical knowledge about biodiversity prompts reliance on species distribution models to predict future change, yet these ignore the role of biotic interactions including the role of long past human exploitation. To explore how mammals of extreme elevation respond to glacial recession and past harvest, we combined our fieldwork with remote sensing and used analyses of ∼60 expeditions from 1850-1925 to represent baseline conditions for wildlife before heavy exploitation on the Tibetan Plateau. Focusing on endangered wild yaks (Bos mutus), we document female changes in habitat use across time whereupon they increasingly relied on steeper post-glacial terrain, and currently have a 20x greater dependence on winter snow patches than males. Our twin findings - that the sexes of a cold-adapted species respond differently to modern climate forcing and long-past exploitation - indicate that effective conservation planning will require knowledge of the interplay between past and future if we will assure persistence of the region's biodiversity. © 2015, Nature Publishing Group. All rights reserved.

Wangchuk S.,Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment | Siebert S.,University of Montana | Belsky J.,University of Montana
Human Ecology | Year: 2014

Fuelwood is the principal energy resource for millions of households around the world, yet its use, availability and management remain poorly understood in many areas. We document fuelwood consumption, growth/yield and standing biomass in a Bhutanese village and alpine area used seasonally by villagers where the government is concerned about harvesting in a recently designated national park. Pinus wallichiana was the only fuelwood used in the village and assessments suggest 52 ha could sustain local needs at current consumption levels (54 m3/household/yr). In contrast, Rhododendron aeruginosum was used in the alpine site and at current consumption rates all will be consumed by 2023. Our findings emphasize the need to manage fuelwood based on site-specific consumption, growth and standing biomass criteria rather than single, nation-wide regulations. We provide methods to develop sustainable fuelwood harvesting and forest management guidelines that are applicable to government and community-managed forests in Bhutan and elsewhere. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media New York.

Wangchuk S.,Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment | Siebert S.F.,University of Montana
Society and Natural Resources | Year: 2013

Interviews with elderly farmers and a review of government data, policies, and programs reveal that farmers in the Bumthang District of Bhutan have transitioned from cultivating a diversity of subsistence grains through swidden farming with no external inputs in the 1980s to intensive monocropping of potatoes utilizing fertilizers and tractors in 2011. During the same time, household diets changed from locally cultivated buckwheat and barley to make greater use of purchased rice. The primary underlying driving forces noted by farmers for the changes were improved road and market access, and government prohibitions against swidden agriculture. Farmers also stated that climatic conditions have changed; however, temperature and precipitation data do not reveal significant change, although the variability of mean monthly precipitation has increased. Understanding the site- and time-specific ways in which farmers respond to underlying forces is essential to the identification and development of effective agricultural policies, research, and development. © 2013 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.

PubMed | University of Montana, Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment, Bhutan Foundation and North Carolina State University
Type: Journal Article | Journal: PloS one | Year: 2015

Many large carnivores occupy a wide geographic distribution, and face threats from habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, prey depletion, and human wildlife-conflicts. Conservation requires robust techniques for estimating population densities and trends, but the elusive nature and low densities of many large carnivores make them difficult to detect. Spatial capture-recapture (SCR) models provide a means for handling imperfect detectability, while linking population estimates to individual movement patterns to provide more accurate estimates than standard approaches. Within this framework, we investigate the effect of different sample interval lengths on density estimates, using simulations and a common leopard (Panthera pardus) model system. We apply Bayesian SCR methods to 89 simulated datasets and camera-trapping data from 22 leopards captured 82 times during winter 2010-2011 in Royal Manas National Park, Bhutan. We show that sample interval length from daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly periods did not appreciably affect median abundance or density, but did influence precision. We observed the largest gains in precision when moving from quarterly to shorter intervals. We therefore recommend daily sampling intervals for monitoring rare or elusive species where practicable, but note that monthly or quarterly sample periods can have similar informative value. We further develop a novel application of Bayes factors to select models where multiple ecological factors are integrated into density estimation. Our simulations demonstrate that these methods can help identify the true explanatory mechanisms underlying the data. Using this method, we found strong evidence for sex-specific movement distributions in leopards, suggesting that sexual patterns of space-use influence density. This model estimated a density of 10.0 leopards/100 km2 (95% credibility interval: 6.25-15.93), comparable to contemporary estimates in Asia. These SCR methods provide a guide to monitor and observe the effect of management interventions on leopards and other species of conservation interest.

Kusters K.,Wereld in Woorden Global Research and Reporting | Wangdi N.,Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment
International Journal of Global Warming | Year: 2013

There is growing evidence that monsoon patterns are changing in the Himalayan region, which could potentially result in loss and damage for local farmers. To understand how farmers adapt to changes in water availability, we conducted a study in Punakha district, Bhutan, using qualitative and quantitative research tools. According to 91% of 273 respondents, water availability for rice irrigation has been decreasing over the last 20 years due to changing rainfall. Most of them have taken measures in response. They may, for example, invest in the maintenance of irrigation channels, develop or modify water-sharing mechanisms, or shift to crops that need less water than rice. Of these farmers, however, 88% indicate that their adaptation measures are insufficient. Moreover, they come with extra costs. We argue that these costs should not only be conceived in monetary terms, but also in terms of time investment, social-cohesion and livelihood security. Copyright © 2013 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.

Wangchuk T.R.,The Bhutan Foundation | Wegge P.,Norwegian University of Life Sciences | Sangay T.,Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment
Journal of Natural History | Year: 2016

Little is known about the ecology of the rare and vulnerable Bhutan takin Budorcas taxicolor whitei, a large and basically forest-dwelling goat-antelope inhabiting mountain valleys in northern Bhutan. In Tsharijathang valley (3800 m asl) in Jigme Dorji National Park, we described the summer habitat of this takin subspecies through vegetation transects and by studying diet via microhistological analysis of faeces supplemented by examination of feeding sites. The habitats utilized by the c.250 animals occupying the valley consisted of six main vegetation types with roughly equal coverages, viz. three forest types (dominated by Juniperus, Betula or Abies), alpine scrub (mainly low Rhododendron shrubs), open alpine meadow (mainly graminoids and forbs) and semi-open willow shrub (mainly Salix and forbs). Sixty-eight food species were identified in the feeding sites, but the bulk of the diet consisted of ≈10 species, the same species that also dominated the faecal material. With >50% of the diet consisting of shrubs, mainly Salix myrtillacea, the takins were mainly browsers. When foraging, they exhibited a weak form of selection by choosing sites with a slightly higher coverage of the most important food species and, while at these, proportionally more feeding signs were recorded. Domestic yak Bos grunniens are allowed to graze in the study area during winter when the takins have descended to lower elevation. At the present grazing pressure, the wintering yaks probably benefit the takin by maintaining the open vegetation structure, but their numbers and impact on the habitat should be monitored to prevent adverse effects. © 2015 Taylor & Francis.

Namgay R.,Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment | Wangchuk S.,Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment
SpringerPlus | Year: 2016

Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) is a vulnerable Red list species whose populations are declining. However, little is known about Black-necked Cranes’ habitat requirements or the causes of their population decline. We identified Black-necked Cranes’ winter roost and foraging preferences of Black-necked Cranes in Bhutan during the winter of 2013–2014. Black-necked Cranes’ roosts were recorded using Garmin GPSmap 60CSx, while foraging preferences and threats to the birds were identified based on a survey of household heads (n = 107) residing within a 3 km radius of roost sites. We grouped the threats identified by the communities into four major categories, viz. biological, social, political and natural threats based on the relevance. Of the four major threats, communities residing within the roosting and foraging habitat of the Black-necked Crane reported biological threat as major. Biological threats as reported by communities include loss of habitat, food shortage and competition from other animals. We recommend the present roosting areas be designated as part of the conservation areas for Black-necked Crane wintering in Bumthang district. In addition to preserving these areas, government should also encourage farming in foraging habitats of Black-necked Crane, because they mainly feed on barley, wheat, paddy, potatoes and buckwheat, besides roots, tubers and insects in the wetlands. © 2016, Namgay and Wangchuk.

Dendup P.,Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment | Cheng E.,University of Georgia | Lham C.,Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment | Tenzin U.,Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment
ORYX | Year: 2016

Across much of Asia protected areas have a dual objective of conserving biodiversity and supporting rural and indigenous livelihoods. For the red panda Ailurus fulgens and other sensitive species of concern, even limited anthropogenic disturbance may influence their use of protected areas. We quantified the prevalence of timber collection and livestock grazing, and their impacts on red panda habitat use, in Phrumsengla National Park, Bhutan. Red pandas used sites with at least 20% bamboo cover, as evidenced by presence of their faecal pellets. They avoided sites disturbed by livestock, regardless of bamboo availability. Timber collection itself was not an important predictor of red panda presence but bamboo may be harvested opportunistically from sites where timber is collected. Conservation efforts for the red panda should not rely on protected areas alone but should explicitly consider and mitigate impacts of anthropogenic disturbances in protected areas. Copyright © Fauna & Flora International 2016

Norbu N.,Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment | Ugyen,Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment | Wikelski M.C.,Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Radolfzell) | Wilcove D.S.,Princeton University
ORYX | Year: 2016

Relative to long-distance migrants, altitudinal migrants have been understudied, perhaps because of a perception that their migrations are less complex and therefore easier to protect. Nonetheless, altitudinal migrants may be at risk as they are subject to ongoing anthropogenic pressure from land use and climate change. We used global positioning system/accelerometer telemetry to track the partial altitudinal migration of the satyr tragopan Tragopan satyra in central Bhutan. The birds displayed a surprising diversity of migratory strategies: some individuals did not migrate, others crossed multiple mountains to their winter ranges, others descended particular mountains, and others ascended higher up into the mountains in winter. In all cases migration between summer breeding and winter non-breeding grounds was accomplished largely by walking, not by flying. Females migrated in a south-easterly direction whereas males migrated in random directions. During winter, migrants occupied south-east facing slopes whereas residents remained on south-west facing slopes. Migratory and resident tragopans utilized a range of forest types, with migratory individuals preferring cool broadleaved forests during winter. These complex patterns of migration suggest that conservation measures should extend across multiple mountains, protect the full range of forest types and encompass multiple landscape configurations to protect aspect diversity. Given the diversity of migratory strategies employed by this single species it seems clear that more research on altitudinal migrants is needed to understand what must be done to ensure their future in an era of widespread land-use and climate change. Copyright © Fauna & Flora International 2016

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