Bhutan lost more than 45,000 acres of forest to fire in last five years

It’s season where the dry and windy atmosphere creates condition even for a small spark of fire to flare up and engulf the forest and it’s mostly human carelessness that leads to the disaster

Jan 31, 2013 0

A man-made disaster

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fireBattling flames with branches

COVER STORY It was an ordinary winter afternoon and ranger Gyaltshen was in his office, seated in front of the computer documenting information, when a nervous voice, loaded with tension, crackled on his communication set.

In the dry season, the communication set usually transmitted news that foresters dreaded.  The voice relayed information about a forest fire at Debsiphakha in Thimphu.

Immediately, ranger Gyaltshen informed the four beat officers in his range to mobilise foresters to come and help contain the fire that was engulfing the ridge.

Having done that, without losing time, Gyaltshen then picked up a fire rack, knife, and the 18-litre water bag from his office store, and rushed to the site in his office hilux.

The fire was spreading rapidly on the slopes, consuming the dried grass rapidly.  This called for more help.  Gyaltshen called his chief forest officer and asked to seek help from the armed forces.

Joining forest fire fighters and volunteers, Gyaltshen then started battling the raging flames with branches he ripped from a nearby tree.

“With a strong wind fueling the fire, I thought it could take days for us to contain it,” he said.

Among the lot battling the flames was forester Phub Tshering from forest protection unit.  He’d rushed to the site with a knife and spade, as soon as he heard about the incident.

Apart from thrashing branches to put off the flames, he also drew a fire line with the spade and knife, while keeping a close eye on the movement of fire. “It helped protect a settlement and a community lhakhang,” he said.

Having received calls for help, the armed forces and desuung and other volunteers, including residents from nearby communities, flocked to the site.

Two hours later, the fire was under control.  But ten acres of forest was lost to fire.

All in all, the fire at Debsiphakha was a manageable one.  At times, the fire burns forests for days, spreading from mountain to mountain to inaccessible territories, making it difficult to control the fire.

When valleys are usually enveloped or cloudy overhead, foresters dreading the worst, check with foresters in other offices in neighbouring districts to check if a forest is burning.

Every year, about 40-45 forest fire incidents are reported, and about 9,000 to 10,000 acres of forest area are lost. “It’s the biggest threat to our forest,  which we boast to be over 72 percent,” a forester said.

Forest fire, forestry officials said, literally meant a fire that occurs in a government reserved forests.

Blue pine, chirpine, mixed conifer, broadleaf with conifer, plantations and degraded forests, which cover approximately 40 percent of the total forest area, are most susceptible to frequent forest fires.

Records maintained by the forest fire management division showed that, in the last five years, more than 45,000 acres of forest were lost to fire.

Fire incidences 2007-2012

November to April is the peak forest fire season.  Low temperatures and lack of rainfall, perennial grasses, and increased wind velocity, officials from meteorology department said, quickens drying process making areas susceptible to fire.

“The dry and windy atmosphere creates condition even for a small spark of fire to flare up and engulf the forest,” an official from the division said.

Meteorology officials explained areas, with less than 1,000mm rainfall annually, are at high risk of having forest fires.

Kurizampa, Trashigang, Tangmachu, Rongthong in the east and Thimphu, Paro, Haa and Wangduephodrang in the west, and some rain shadow areas of the central region fall in high risk zones.

“Because of little rainfall, high day-time temperatures and afternoon winds, the forest floor dries out very quickly, leading to a high risk of fire,” an official explained. “Chirpine growing areas are also high risk zone.

Forests are considered as the most important natural wealth, and the economy is dependent on its protection, conservation and management, according to foresters.

“But forest fire are mainly caused by human intervention,” a forester said.

Some of the common causes of forest fire are agriculture debris burning, purposely setting off fires for regeneration of grass for cattle by farmers and by lemon grass harvesters, smokers, children playing with flammable materials, roadside worker burning bitumen or making fire to warm themselves or cook, campfires and electrical short circuit.

Claiming 100 percent of the forest fires to have been manmade, an official from the forest fire management division said, in the last five years, there were about 32 cases caused from agriculture debris burning.

“There were 10 to 11 cases reported to have been occurred while children were playing,” he said.

Citing an example of the fire that occurred in November 2012 at Samarzingkha, Thimphu the official said children, who were playing near the Thimchu set the fire and ran away from the area. “Parents shouldn’t give igniting objects to their children,” he said.

Once fire sparks, it spreads fast.  Fighting forest fire, foresters say, is difficult in a mountainous terrain, where road connectivity is very limited.

In places, where there is road connectivity, containing fire is much easier, since the fire brigade being able to access the site.

Most fires occur in places with no water source nearby or manpower.  Afternoon incidences are the most difficult to bring under control, with winds fanning the flames.

While these natural elements restrict firefighting, lack of equipment also hinders the process.  Unlike in developed countries, firefighter are without masks, gloves or water bags.

“Forget fire fighting tools, we don’t have enough to buy proper set for communication,” a forester said. “Most of the sets we use are old.”

Foresters said, without any annual budget allotted to procure fire fighting tools and equipment, even changing the batteries for their set was difficult.

Officials from forest fire management division said there are plans to replace the tree branches with proper firefighting tools, but because of the terrain, it is unrealistic.

“We can’t carry heavy equipment and walk for hours to battle fire,” an official said. “We have water back pumps, which are effective during incident to reduce the flame severity, and this equipment is supplied to all fire prone districts.”

Fighting forest fire is also considered a task for which one is unprepared.  Foresters rush to the area without much tools and end up at the site until the fire is contained, foraging meals and being trapped in smoke.

There have also been reports on casualties during such incidents.  At times, fighters lose their way in the forest.  Sometimes, situations turn out to be uncontrollable and so grim that foresters often find themselves praying for divine intervention.

Farmers in the localities often invoke deities to bring rain to contain forest fire.

Even Ranger Gyaltshen, who initially thought it would take days to contain the Debsiphakha fire, cannot help but believe divine intervention was what it took to contain the fire in two hours.

“The raging fire miraculously slowed down near a lam’s resident, and this helped us contain the fire,” he said.

By Tashi Dema

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Understanding local needs


The need to built energy-efficient buildings that suit the local climate

Edifices in Bhutan are built to Indian specifications, unsuited to cold climatic conditions

With hot water pipes running under cement floor, transparent sheet roofing, insulated walls and double glazed window glasses, the four-storied energy building in the economic affairs ministry complex, engineers say, is an energy-efficient building.

Facing south, the orientation of the building was to draw in more sunlight, so lesser energy could be used for lighting purposes and to warm the rooms in winter.

With office buildings consuming a lot of energy, the department of energy building, according to engineers, was constructed in such a manner so as to cut down the energy usage.

From the outside, it looks like any modern structure.

“We have grid connected solar lightings on staircases and auto switch street lights,” an engineer with the department, Sherub Jamtsho, said.

The construction of the building that was completed in 2009 was supposed to have less running cost.  But no studies have been done to compare costs.

Use of double glass in construction, engineers and architects say, is the right choice for Bhutanese climate.  That is because it gives artificial light and saves energy.

Use of glass, architects and engineers say, is also energy efficient as it lets in natural light, thereby resulting in less use of electricity.

“Glass also traps heat and heat transmission through glass is still high compared to other building materials,” a civil engineer, Pema Tenzin, said. “Double glazing with air gap in between for insulation is good for Bhutanese climate.”

The old Motithang hotel, which is now the hotel and tourism management and training institute, was also converted into an energy-efficient building in 2005.

Sherub Jamtsho said saving components for ventilation, heating and hot water had been installed in the building without compromising the comfort.

Engineers and architects say most buildings in Thimphu are not energy efficient.  An engineer, working for renewable energy, said the building codes Thimphu house owners incorporated are replicated from Indian buildings, which are designed for warm climate.

Citing the usage of tiles as an example, the engineer said, it’s important to incorporate materials and designs that suit our climate.

An architect, Tashi, said it’s important to design houses in accordance to orientation of the sun, so that maximum heat is absorbed to keep the rooms warm, and natural light can substitute artificial lighting system.

However, although the materials used in traditional Bhutanese buildings are energy efficient, high infiltration makes it less energy efficient.

He said that the rammed earth is considered more energy efficient than stone masonry, as the earth has high thermal mass and it absorbs heat during the day and retains it during the night.

By Tashi Dema

Beating the blues (of the cold season)


Exploring the best source of energy

Dochula pass, the highest point on the Thimphu to Wangdue highway, offers panoramic views of the surrounding hills and snow-capped mountains to the north.

On a clear day you can even see the Gasa dzong, a distant white speck, through the windswept spruce and fir trees.  But at 3,100m, Dochula can get awfully cold and icy in the mornings, evenings and at night.

Holding a steaming mug of suja, Lam Nim Tsheri gazes at the white peaks through the window of his single-storied masonry house in Dochula.  A gust of wind rattles the window frames, but the air inside is still.  The steam from the mug wafts gently upwards.

The shiny wooden flooring of the house, which is used as an altar, living room and bedroom, is carpeted, and the painted window frames duct taped. “Here, you have to insulate to trap the heat,” he said.  Where the gaps are wide, like where the window frames join the wall, pieces of cloth have been stuffed to block the draft from coming in.

To keep warm, Lam Nim Tsheri, 37, uses a radiator and halogen heater to warm the room. “Although a bukhari (wood-fed heater) produces more heat, electric heaters are convenient for monks like him, as he need not spend time collecting firewood and making the fire. “We just put on the heater, as and when we need it,” he said.  His wooden bed is by the side of the window that catches the rays and warmth of the morning sun.

Another 40-year old monk, Ugyen, from Sha Kunzaling, who lives in Dochula, has duct taped the gaps on the wooden flooring. “Such insulation is very effective in retaining heat within the room,” he said.

Which energy source?

With the coldest and darkest months of year here what is the best source of energy to keep warm?

The main source of warmth is the sun and as it is traditionally said in some parts of the country, “winter sun has owners”. Try and stand in front of someone who is soaking up the solar.

Solar energy is not counted here because like the best things in life, it’s free. You don’t pay bills for using its energy.

But you do pay for using electric heaters and blowers, kerosene heaters, LPG gas heaters and the wood-fed Bukhari heaters.

After the sun the next preferred heating mode is the Bukhari, commonplace in many small townships up in the hills but becoming a rarity in the capital city primarily because of the difficulty of getting firewood. Nowadays many of the concrete structures coming up do not allow tenants to install Bukharis in winter because it’s messy and dirties the building.

Quite a few Bukharis are still burning these days in the capital because of the availability of briquettes compacted from sawdust and other waste in sawmills. Here too demand far outstrips supply and its purchase is rationed to a certain quantity an individual.

Rationing is also done for quota kerosene, which is limited to 50 litres a person a month, but this is mainly to check deflection to India, hoarding and misuse.

One heating option that has picked up in recent years is the kerosene heater from Korea. The agents also provide a good back up service but the downside is the invisible fumes it emits is considered to be very harmful for babies and little children. It also tends to cause a burning sensation to the eyes.

The other heating device that is not so common is the LPG heater that comes together with a blower option. Some people find using gas for heating risky but those using it say it quickly warms a small room.

So which source of energy is the most affordable? Bhutan Power Corporation officials still believe that electricity might be the best option.

Here is a theoretical comparison on how the energy sources cost. It’s based on numerous assumptions.
Take a look below.

Simple calculation for comparing the consumption of fuel for heating

Types of fuel Unit Rate Qty Amount Remarks
Firewood Truck 8,000.00 1.00 2,000.00 Assuming 1 truck load lasts for 4 months
Briquette Bag 150.00 10.00 1500.00 Assuming 10 bags lasts a month
Kerosene Ltr 15.04 100.00 1504.00 Assuming 100 litres is consumed a month
Gas Cylinder 480.00 2.00 960.00 Assuming 2 cylinders consumed a month
Electricity kwh 1.80 800.00 864.00 Assuming 2KW load heater used for 8 hrs a day with the average of Nu.1.8 a unit, calculated for a month

Note: This comparison is based on simple assumptions. To know actual comparison generation of heat by each of the fuels would have to be considered. It might even need segregating each of the fuels used for cooking and other purposes. This would require a lot of real data.

Seventeen kilometres away in Thimphu valley, which is at a much lower elevation of about 2,560m, a 44-year old corporate employee, who lives in a concrete building in Olakha, uses two kerosene ovens, two radiator heaters and one halogen heater to keep the warmth flowing.

The employee, who owns the five-storied building, uses the radiator heaters in the two bedrooms she and her daughter use, the kerosene heaters are used to warm the two sitting rooms of the apartment. “The halogen is to keep the kitchen warm,” she said.

Paying a monthly electric bill of Nu 850 to Nu 1,100 and buying 50 litres of kerosene worth Nu 750, she said, although it’s expensive, she did not mind, as long as the apartment was warm.

Keeping warm in winter increases electricity consumption. The cost for electricity use to keep warm in winters is more than twice the bills homes get in summer.

In Changzamtog, another corporate employee, who lives in a two-storied residential building, keeps warm by placing a blower heater under a low table, which is covered with a cloth sheet.  The eight people in the house sit on the floor and stick their feet under the table to keep warm.

“When we use other heaters, we have to keep the doors closed, but with a blower underneath the table, we can breathe fresh air and keep warm,” Karma, said.  His family chats, eats and plays on the table.

He pays a monthly electric bill of more than Nu 700 to Nu 1,000.  At times, he uses a halogen heater, when there are fewer people.

Calling it a Japanese technique Karma learnt it from his sister’s Japanese neighbours. “It’s effective and convenient in spacious houses,” he said.

To the extreme north, some 171km away from Dochula, except for the spruce and juniper trees, everything has become barren, and the snow cover is gradually reaching a village in Laya.  The community has begun its migration to the warmer valleys of Punakha.

A four-member family in Laya Lubcha keeps the fire burning in their bukhari from 6 in the morning to 10 in the evening.  The family intends to migrate to Punakha next week. “It’s impossible to live here,” Sonam Chopel, 39, said. “We finish about three loads of firewood everyday.”

Laya would almost be empty in winter, except for the few old people, who are not able to walk to Punakha.  An elderly couple, who will live the next three months by themselves in their two-storied traditional house, painted with the eight lucky signs, say they have to sustain on the firewood their grandchildren stacked in front of their house.

“We make the fire in the traditional oven, as it consumes less firewood but gives good heat,” the 81-year old woman said.  The solar panels on the shingled roof provide lighting for a few hours after dark.

Situated at an altitude of more than 3,800m, fetching firewood in Laya is not an easy chore. “My grandchildren spent months to stack the firewood I use,” she said.  She estimates finishing about two truckloads of firewood in three months.

Architects and civil engineers say traditional Bhutanese homes, if properly insulated, would be energy efficient.

An engineer of department of renewable energy, Sherub Jamtsho, said traditional buildings, constructed of rammed earth and square in shape, are energy efficient. “The closer to a circle the structure is, the more heat it can retain,” he said. “And, if properly insulated, much energy can be saved.”

But building codes in urban areas, engineers and architects point out, are not energy efficient, as most materials are imported from India, and designed to suit a warmer climate.

They recommend constructions, making maximum use of sunlight and use of glass to retain heat.

Use of wrong materials in the wrong place could lead to making them ineffective at what they do best.

Recently, the Indian media reported use of glass in urban buildings as energy inefficient.

Down to Earth, a science and environment magazine, reported that buildings with glass facades had become a fad.  But glass traps heat, and buildings with high proportion of the material get overheated, pushing up energy use for keeping it cool.

Talking about hot places, the energy consumption in districts along the southern belt has decreased and, for once, fans and air-conditioners get to stay still or shut down.

“It’s the best time to be here,” a civil servant in Gelephu, Dorji, said. “It’s time for us to save energy.”

For those travelling to warmer climes for work or vacation, it’ll be safe to travel once the sun is out and about, which is at around seven in the morning.

By Tashi Dema

Climate change threatens rural livelihood

Nov 15, 2012

Kangpara is a case in point

Gradual decline in chili and bamboo produce stands as evidence

Climate Change:Kangpara chili and bambooware that lie displayed along the narrow platforms in front of shops in Wamrong are the main sources of income for its villagers.

The fear among Kangpara villagers in Trashigang today is of the shrinking produce along that same narrow platforms, which subsequently leads to shrinking income.

Within the last couple of years, Kangpara villagers said they experienced diminishing bamboo products and their chili perishing from blight.

The situation, Kangpara farmer said, was worsening every year that the fear among them looms of a time when they are unable to weave bamboo produce for their own use and chili for self-consumption.

Farmer Pema Rinzin, 60, said chili production in the locality was reducing annually, and it worsened this year, as it rained continuously during the chili transplantation season.

“We suspected pest infestation, but there was no pests in the chili tree that died,” he said.

Kangpara gup Chempa Dorji said people, who sold quintals of chili a few years ago, could not produce for their own consumption today.

He said chili production began decreasing since four years or so ago.

Bamboo products are also declining in the locality, and people said it was because of resource depletion that people were gradually giving up producing weaves from bamboo.

Chempa Dorji said a few people in the locality were bringing bamboo from Samdrupjongkhar to weave the products.

Farmers also said that maize, their staple diet, was affected in the recent years.

While maize in the area were severely affected by diseases like gray leaf spot and Turcicum leaf blight, farmers say drought and extensive rainfall reduced the yield dramatically over the years.

A farmer from Khayshing said extensive sunshine during spring, when the maize saplings were about a metre high, dried the crop, while extensive rainfall during June and July soaked the crop.

“We couldn’t harvest any yield this year, forget storing,” Sonam, 45, said.

Drought, windstorm, untimely and disproportionate rainfall and extreme cold, said a finding of an assessment of climate change vulnerabilities in the gewog, resulted in the decline of agricultural products in Kangpara gewog.

Conducted on a joint support program by Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) and UN Development Program this year, the assessment was conducted to quantify how communities would adapt to changing environmental conditions.

RSPN officials said Kangpara was vulnerable to climate change, as water sources in the area were degraded.

“Bamboo has become extinct, and the area is very vulnerable to earthquake,” the report stated.

The assessment report stated that, although information on climate vulnerability assessment was scanty, the country’s fragile ecosystem was vulnerable to climate change and global warming, because it was wedged between two large, industrialised nations.

“Incidents of floods, droughts, loss of biodiversity, health hazards and poverty due to climate change and global warming effects are the biggest concern of the Bhutanese people,” the report stated.

The assessment conducted in 383 households of 17 villages under Kangpara gewog, it was found that there were problems of irrigation, seed storage and farm labour shortage in the gewog.

Farmer Pema Rinzin said, since agriculture products were being affected, people were seeking alternative employment and leaving the village.

He said young people were seeking employment in construction sector.

Since most villagers are subsistence farmers, and agriculture is based on dry land cultivation, combined with livestock and small kitchen garden, the report stated that villagers depended on forest resources, especially cane and bamboo, which were also used for housing purposes.

RSPN officials said it was important to prepare the community, comprising mostly illiterates, of the impacts of climate change.

The assessment, RSPN officials said, was targeted to produce a consolidated report containing local socio-economic variability and trends, inventory of available indigenous coping mechanisms and strategies, including a climate change adaptation plan.

“The action plan is to reduce exposure and sensitivity of households in Kangpara, and to increase their adaptive capacity,” the report stated. “That way, vulnerabilities to impacts of climate change are reduced.”

RSPN officials said activities, like adoption of community forests, formation of non-timber management group and establishing poultry farms, were ways to address the issue.

Kangpara gewog agriculture extension officer Pema Wangchen said various interventions were implemented in the locality.

“We conducted farmer’s training programs on how to make beds, plant crop on rotational basis and using locally available raw materials,” he said, adding that they also brought seeds from different areas, the yields from which had not improved.

Officials from territorial range office said they do not mark trees in water catchment area to protect water sources.

Meanwhile, some Kangpara farmers said they feared watching the situation worsen.

“We might have to leave our villages, as there’ll be nothing for us to eat,” a farmer said.

By Tashi Dema

Regional collaboration called to save the endangered black necked cranes


Joint action by China, India and Bhutan called for

To save the highly endangered species, their high altitude wetland habitats need to be conserved

Black Necked Cranes:Conservationists are seeking a regional initiative and collaborative action from China, India and Bhutan to save the endangered black-necked cranes.

The call to save the endangered bird species that roost in the Tibetan plateau in summer, and China, India and Bhutan in winter, was reiterated on November 22, when World Wildlife Fund’s officials of India, Bhutan, Pakistan, China and Nepal discussed saving wetlands in high altitudes.

Conservationists say that the 11,0000 black-necked cranes in the world are facing shrinking habitats, owing to the loss and degradation of wetlands, and changing agricultural practices in both its breeding and wintering grounds.

WWF’s head of high altitude wetlands conservation programme in India, Pankaj Chandan, said it was important for scientists from these three countries to work together and monitor the cranes.

“Since the cranes are migratory, it’s equally important for all three countries to contribute for its protection,” he said. “One country’s attempt to save it won’t make sense if there is no equal effort. This conservation effort should go beyond political borders, and black-necked cranes could serve as a goodwill ambassador within the region.”

Bird Sherub of Ugyen Wangchuck institute for conservation and environment, who is conducting a study on the transboundary migration of cranes, said such regional collaboration is vital for knowledge and resource sharing for species conservation.

He also said regional collaboration is important to conserve habitats at landscape level to protect other species depending on wetland. “Besides black-necked cranes, numerous other species of the wetland could be also saved,” Bird Sherub said.

WWF’s program officer in China, Kelsang Norbu, said regional collaboration is a must to save the black-necked cranes, as there are incidences in China, where nesting grounds were lost because of increase in water level due to glacier melt. “It’s important for us to preserve the habitat in all three countries,” he said.

Black-necked crane habitat, conservationists say, could serve as an indicator of climate change.

Pankaj Chandan said he did a comprehensive study on wetlands in Ladakh, India, where there was incidence of water level in wetlands increasing because of glacial melt, and wetlands drying up because glaciers are drying. “Wetlands are like water towers, and it’s important to save them to save the cranes, ” he said.


Bhutanese gushing resource depleting

Almost 10 percent of the Bhutanese glaciers is feared to vanish in the next few decades, which would result in depletion of water resources, the main backbone of Bhutanese econmy besides agriculture

10% of country’s glaciers could vanish

Besides that the amount of melt water coming off Bhutanese glaciers could drop by 30 percent

Geophysical Research Letters: Depletion in, what is, the nation’s gushing resource today, would be the most likely scenario it could expect in not so distant future.
This was based on the findings of Brigham Young University’s professor, Summer Rupper, in her publication, Geophysical Research letters.

The findings indicated that the amount of melt water coming off Bhutanese glaciers could drop by 30 percent.

Her findings also indicated that almost 10 percent of Bhutan’s glaciers would vanish in the next few years, which local glacial researchers said would result in severe water resource depletion in the country in future.

“There would be reduction in water resources and our water-related agencies should plan in accordance with that,” hydro-met services director Karma Tshering said. “We will also have to look out for adaptation measures.”

Karma Tshering, who did the study in collaboration with the university said the study conducted on how the glaciers in Bhutanese Himalayas were responding to climate change indicated that snow and glacial melts not only occur because of rise in temperature but there are other climatic factors.

Wind, humidity, precipitation and evaporation were among the list.

He said the result of the study conducted through glacier mass balance model was close to realistic.

Mass balance, he explained, was an annual basis of study on how much ice was lost because of melt and how much was gained because of snow.

“Snowfall rates in Bhutan would have to be almost doubled to avoid glacier retreat,” he said. “But that is impossible.”

The findings also state that glaciers of Bhutan Himalayas would continue to shrink even if the climate remained steady.

A news release from Brigham Young University stated that instead of doubling the snowfall rate, warmer temperatures led to rainfall.

“If glaciers continue to lose more water than gained, the combination of more rain and more glacial melt increases the probability of flooding — which can be devastating to neighboring villages,” it stated.

Karma Tshering said professor Rupper’s research also indicated that in the long run if there was a rise of temperature by one degree Celsius, Bhutanese glaciers would shrink by 25 percent and the annual melt water would drop by as much as 65 percent.

He said the study helped Bhutan in terms of finding out what sort of glacier mass balance were in effect in Bhutan Himalayas, how much rivers and streams were fed by glaciers and whether there would be problems in water resources in future.

By Tashi Dema

Livestock kills on the rise

While people in rural residents are reeling under the intensified human wildlife conflict, no studies are done in Bhutan on why it is happening.


Nov 05, 2012

Livestock kills on the rise


In Nubi gewog  more than 100 cattle were preyed on this year alone
Human-wildlife conflict: After a tiger mauled one of its villagers to death in 2010 the small hamlet of Dozhong (Dorji) gonpa in Trongsa has occasionally made news. Since then numerous cattle have fallen prey to tigers. The last kill on October 30 was a young ox.

Villagers of the 11 scattered houses amid oak and pine trees, 17 kms from Trongsa town towards Bumthang, say wild animals have always preyed on their livestock but never like in the recent years.

“When I was young the village lost about five to six cattle to wild animals like tiger, wild dog and leopard,” a 52-year old farmer said. “Tigers would attack only one to two cattle in a year. But these days we can’t even keep track of the loss.”

This plight of intensified livestock depredation is shared by farmers of more than 15 villages of Nubi gewog in Trongsa.

A 57-year old farmer said while wild cats attacking their livestock has been a part of their lives the situation has worsened in recent years. Villagers claim that more than 100 livestock has been lost this year alone.

Village tshogpa (representative) Kezang Jurmi said more than 60 livestock were killed in three villages in his locality in the past 10 months. Tsagay, a farmer from Dozhonggonpa, claimed that more than 60 were killed in his village.

But officials from territorial forest division say only 54 cases were reported. Records maintained by wildlife conservation division indicate that from two reported tiger depredation cases in 2002, it had increased to 54 this year.

It is, however, not known why the conflict had increased in the recent years.

Village elders believe that the numbers of tiger seems to have increased but they do not know by how much. Chimi Dub, 57, said the only probable cause he could think is the increase in the forest cover in the area.

Forest officials say camera traps confirmed the presence of about three tigers in the area. Even leopards were spotted in the camera trap.

While officials working for wildlife conservation pointed out the conflict could have been intensified because the tigers are old and are not able to hunt, there are no studies conducted to prove it. Conservationists are also not in position to say if the tiger numbers have increased in the area.

Meanwhile, farmer Tsagay from Dozhonggonpa, whose ox was eaten by a tiger on October 30, said farmers in the locality might have to leave if the tigers go on predating their livestock.

Tsagay owned more than 15 cattle four years ago but is left with only eight now. “We live in the highland and depend on livestock,” he said.

Many Dozhonggonpa residents claimed they were not compensated for the livestock lost to tigers in 2010 and 2011. “We only got compensation for the livestock that were killed in 2012,” a 32-year-old woman said.

By Tashi Dema