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Training Bhutan’s forest field officials in mapping human-wildlife conflict hotspots

Prashanti Sharma & Sushmita Kunwar

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Human–wildlife conflict is an increasing concern in Bhutan, where crop raiding and livestock depredation are the most common forms of conflict. Here, officials investigate the death of an elephant in a crop field in Lhamozingkha, Dagana. Photo credit: Sonam Yangdon, Forest Officer, DFPS

 

Human–wildlife conflict (HWC) and its impacts on people and biodiversity are multifold, especially in ecologically significant regions like the Hindu Kush Himalaya. As wildlife habitats face increasing pressure from encroachment, infrastructure development, and resource extraction, interactions among wild species and humans and domestic animals increase, impacting livelihoods and conservation efforts.

HWC is widespread in the Kangchenjunga Landscape (KL), where forest-dependent communities practicing subsistence farming and livestock rearing live in close proximity to wildlife. To better understand the patterns, extent, and intensity of HWC conflict in Bhutan (parts of which form the KL along with parts of Nepal and India), we got together with the Nature Conservation Division (NCD) of the Department of Forest and Park Services (DoFPS) to organize a three-day training session on HWC mapping, a capacity-building training for forestry field staff.

Our Kangchenjunga Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KLCDI) provided technical support for the online training. Working remotely in compliance with COVID-19 travel restrictions, we introduced the participants to various Geographical Information System (GIS) tools through which to identify areas with a high probability of HWC and to delineate possible conflict hotspots. The sessions featured group exercises where a resource person guided the participants at each step.

Our aim was to build the capacity of frontline staff and relevant partners to develop maps and analyse HWC using spatial modelling. Fifty-seven forest officials representing 24 field agencies across 20 districts participated. Karma Choki, one of the participants of the training, spoke about its usefulness saying, “I am very glad that I have learnt new skills to apply field data to a GIS environment, develop maps, and analyze patterns.”

Sonam Wangdi, Chief of NCD, spoke at the training inauguration saying, “HWC is one of the most common problems affecting fringe communities in Bhutan. We hope to find solutions to this problem by integrating spatial tools into our efforts to better manage HWC.” Similarly, Dasho Lobzang Dorji, Director, DoFPS, Bhutan, emphasized the need to apply the lessons from the training for better decision-making and problem-solving.

By the end of the three-day event, the participants had developed a clear road map of future activities using the acquired knowledge. With better technological capacity, they expressed their desire to work on mapping and analyzing HWC in Bhutan.

Participant Karma Choki (bottom right) said she acquired new skills through the training.
Participant Karma Choki (bottom right) said she acquired new skills through the training.

 

Nakul Chettri, Regional Programme Manager, Transboundary Landscapes, ICIMOD stressed on the need for a holistic approach to tackling HWC. He said, “We are in the process of forming a task force between Bhutan, India, and Nepal to look at HWC at a regional level and come up with succinct and doable recommendations for a clear roadmap into the future.”

NCD and DoFPS are important partners of our transboundary Kangchenjunga landscape extending into Bhutan. Tashi Dorji, Programme Coordinator, Kangchenjunga Initiative has extended our support to NCD for any future activities that might result from the application of learnings from this training.

The event was held from 16–18 March 2021.

 

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