This project is funded by The Darwin Initiative, a UK government grants scheme that helps to protect biodiversity and the natural environment through locally based projects worldwide http://www.darwininitiative.org.uk.  https://www.facebook.com/DarwinInitiative/

The project will address severe land degradation, red panda habitat loss and herder wellbeing in the winter rangelands of Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) in remote eastern Bhutan (2,500 to 3,500m). SWS is rich in biodiversity and home to the globally threatened red panda http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5701/. However, little is known about red panda status or habitat threats in this remote part of Bhutan (Dorji et al. 2012).

SWS is also home to 5,000 semi-nomadic Brokpa herders, a unique indigenous tribe of eastern Bhutan whose livelihoods depend on livestock raising (yaks and cattle). Brokpa herders from Merak village in SWS (population 2,000, cattle/yaks 9,000) have been caught in a vicious poverty cycle caused by decline in rangeland resources, labour, and poor access to services. To compensate, herders retain more livestock, resulting in more pressure on pastures and lopping of trees for fodder which is labour intensive and dangerous. Extraction of bamboo and timber for building and firewood also causes forest degradation .

There are five major landslides up to 3km long and 0.5 km wide (total 7.5 sq.km) within 400 ha of red panda habitat. Loss of groundcover and trees combined with heavy rainfall events has caused flash floods, human fatalities and downstream damage to rice fields, buildings and roads affecting 10,000 downstream residents. The project will use the community landcare approach developed in Australia to achieve sustainable land management, red panda conservation and improvement in Brokpa livelihoods.

Dorji, S., Rajaratnam, R. and Vernes, K. (2012). The Vulnerable Red Panda Ailurus fulgens in Bhutan: distribution, conservation status and management recommendations. Oryx Volume 46, Issue 4, pp. 536-543.