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So far, so good…pastures up, check dams holding, willows sprouting…..

After only two months, the pastures are up and growing, the willows are sprouting and the check dams are holding against early monsoon rains. The map below shows where the 77 check dams have been installed- most are in the head of the gully with some in the side tributary. Further work will be done on the road above the gully to divert water away from the catchment. Magnificent work by SWS staff and herders in rain and mud. Well done everyone!

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Blessing of Drana restoration by Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche

Burning juniper and ancient buddhist trumpets fill the mountain air as monks and park officials lead the procession down to the Drana landslide area.  Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary staff invited senior lama, his eminence the Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche from Trashigang to consecrate the area by installing a TSA CHU BUMTER at the site. TSA CHU BUMTER is a ceremonial offering buried into the ground. The ritual involves leading of prayers and blessings by the Rinpoche to bring protection to the area.

Drana is an area located at 3090m altitude at a distance of 47 Km from Trashigang . It is one of the winter grazing areas for herds of cattle and yak from Merak village which has become degraded and in need of rehabilitation and restoration. Therefore, as part of Sustainable Rangeland Management to Protect Red Panda and Herder’s Livelihood project funded by the DARWIN INITIATIVE, tree planting and construction of check dams have been undertaken to restore the area.  Kadrinche to Thinley and his team for organising this important event. May the monsoon be kind to Drana this year!

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Merak children perform red panda play

The red curtains were drawn,  the cast were ready and 40 excited children were sitting on the floor waiting for the red panda story to begin. The teacher came out on to the stage and started narrating the story of a mother red panda and her two cubs who lived in the forest in an old tree. As the curtains drew back, the stage was adorned with clumps of bamboo and the children drew in their breath as the red panda actors crawled around the bamboo, occasionally biting and pretending to chew the leaves! Suddenly a dog appeared and attacked one of the cubs who lay there dying. Oohs and aahhs went up! Then a leopard was seen stalking around the dead cub. A group of herders came along with their yaks whooping and singing. The chainsaws came out and they began to cut down trees. The herders were called to sit down by a forests officer who explained that the red pandas were in trouble. The herders whispered amongst themselves, got up and started building a fence and planting bamboo. The red panda mother and her cub came back on the stage and contentedly began chewing bamboo again.

Congratulations to Merak Primary School for a wonderful play. Best wishes for the next performance to be held in August at the Merak Summer Festival.

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Dr Karma Tenzing asking the audience what they learnt from the play.

 

 

 

First Red Panda Conservation Workshop held in Bhutan

Thirty five people with a passion for protecting the magnificent red panda came together for 3 days to share their knowledge and experience with red panda conservation in Bhutan, India and Nepal. The workshop was organized by Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in
collaboration with WWF Bhutan and Charles Sturt University.  Major threats to red panda in Bhutan and across the east and west borders with India were identified as habitat fragmentation, dog attacks/disease, livestock grazing and infrastructure development. A draft action plan was prepared to be finalised and endorsed by the Government of Bhutan by October 2018. It will be titled “Red Panda Conservation Action Plan (2018-2023): Ensuring the Future of Red Panda Landscapes through National and Regional Collaboration”. For more information, contact Mr Thinley Wangdi (wangdi.thinley78@gmail.com) or Joanne Millar (jmillar@csu.edu.au)

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Thinley Wangdi, CFO SWS.   Rajarshi Chakrabhorty, WWF India receives kata and gifts from Sangay, SFO, DOFPS.    

 

 

Herders sow improved pasture for winter fodder

The sound of power tillers breaks through the mountain mist as we drive towards Sheytemi, a winter grazing area of the Brokpas from Merak. The mist clears and we look down a slope to see and smell the acid brown earth smeared with white lime powder as the tiller churns it into the soil. Two district livestock officers greet us at the junction and point to where families are busy sowing ryegrass and cocksfoot into the newly fenced, ploughed and fertilised ground. This is a new experience for them. It will provide much needed winter fodder for cattle and reduce calf mortality.

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A week later and we visit more pasture sites to observe germination of ryegrass and sprouting of willow tree cuttings which will also provide valuable winter fodder. One herder has cleverly left strips of established white clover to reduce soil erosion and achieve a good balance of grass and clover. His family plan to make silage and buy a couple of Brown Swiss cows. Until now, they have not had livestock and other people have grazed their unfenced land.

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From Yack to Merak: a spinning wheel migration

Spinning wool is a way of life for Brokpas to make their traditional clothes. Normally done by individual spinning spools, this is about to change with plans for a wool processing centre at Gengu village at Merak. A successful grant application to Helvetas will fund a small electronic wool carding and spinning machine. This will significantly reduce labour for Brokpa women who do most of the spinning. It will enable quicker and greater production of traditional textiles.

Whilst waiting for the wool processing machine, I decided to donate my spinning wheel to the Gengu women. Karma and I spent an afternoon renovating it, packed it up and carried it all the way from my village of Yackandandah to Merak! The Brokpa women soon got the hang of using the spinning wheel but preferred to stand up as they are accustomed to- it may take a while to feel comfortable with pedaling…..

 

 

 

 

 

Red panda research in Bhutan: a brief summary

In the lead up to the national workshop on red panda conservation, we thought it might be useful to provide a summary of what has been researched in Bhutan to date, the main findings and knowledge gaps. These topics and issues will be fleshed out in more detail at the workshop.

  • Five studies have been carried out in three national parks namely, Jigme Dorji National Park (Dorji et al. 2011) , Thrumsengla National Park (Dorji et al. 2011; Dendup et al. 2016), Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park (Wangchuk, nd) and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (Dorjee 2010; Dorjee 2012). An overview paper of potential distribution was published by Dorji et al. 2012.

Main Findings

  • Red panda habitats are located within a narrow altitudinal range between 2980 and 3685 masl in temperate conifer forests. The highest proportion of red panda detection was reported in fir forest between 3000-3800 masl. Fir forest is the primary habitat of red pandas in the eastern Himalayas.
  • A majority of red panda droppings (between 75% to 95%) were found between 100 and 150 meters of a water source and they showed predilection for easterly and southerly facing slopes with relatively high bamboo densities usually associated with sunlight and rainfall. However, one study has found red panda within 400m from water sources and on north and north-east aspect.
  • Red panda habitat degradation, attrition, destruction and loss due to natural and anthropogenic disturbances is pushing red panda beyond its normal range.

Threats

  • Loss of its habitat due to bamboo die back following mass flowering
  • Timber harvesting including burr collection,
  • Bamboo collection
  • Livestock grazing. For instance, in Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, winter grazing last for about five months between December to February which poses the greatest risk to red panda as it coincides with red panda breeding seasons.
  • Predation by predators such as tiger, leopard, wild and domestic dogs

Gaps

  • Red panda population and distribution in Bhutan not known in detail
  • No clear government policy directive or instrument for red panda conservation
  • Lack of coordination of red panda research efforts among relevant stakeholders.
  • No dialogue between concerned departments and agencies for optimal red panda conservation outcomes. For example, overgrazing and trampling are often alleged to be the main drivers of red panda habitat destruction by several authors (Dorjee, 2008, Dorji et al., 2011). However, there is no indication or record of interaction between DOFPS and DOL to develop a multi-pronged strategy to conserve red panda.

Suggestions

  •  Develop a clear national policy on red panda conservation clearly specifying what steps must be taken to preserve, conserve, restore and minimize red panda habitat destruction and loss due to anthropogenic activities.
  • Identification and creation of “red panda conservation core zones or sanctuaries” within Parks, biological corridors including buffer zones in key vulnerable areas

References

  1. Dendup, P., Cheng, E., Lham, C. and Tenzin, U. (2016). Response of the Endangered red panda Ailurus fulgens fulgens to anthropogenic disturbances, and its distribution in Phrumsengla National Park, Bhutan. Oryx, pp.701-708.
  2. Dorjee, K. (2010). Conservation and Management of Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) in Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary. Report submitted to CEPF, WWF-Bhutan Program. Report unpublished.
  3. Dorjee, K. (2012). Transhumant Practices, Its Impact And Threat To Red Panda Habitat Conservation In Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary. Bachelor of Science thesis, College of Natural Resources, Royal University of Bhutan.
  4. Dorji, S., Rajaratnam, R., & Vernes K. (2012). The Vulnerable red panda Ailurus fulgens in Bhutan: distribution, conservation status and management recommendations. 1;46(04):536–43.
  5. Dorji, S., Vernes K, and Rajaratnam, R. (2011). Habitat Correlates of the Red Panda in the Temperate Forests of Bhutan. PLoS ONE 6(10): e26483. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0026483
  6. Wangchuk, K. (n.d). Habitat Status and Conservation Threats of the Red Panda in Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. https://www.rufford.org/files/15374-1%20Detailed

National and transboundary red panda conservation workshop, 1-3 May, Bhutan

In a few weeks time, invited red panda researchers and managers from Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh will gather in Trashigang, eastern Bhutan to develop a national and transboundary action plan for red panda conservation. The workshop is being hosted by Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (Bhutan Department of Forests and Parks) and supported by World Wildlife Fund Bhutan and Charles Sturt University Australia.

The first day will explore research findings on red panda ecology and threats in Bhutan, Nepal and India. Research gaps and needs will be identified. On the second day, participants will share experiences with red panda management and education strategies across the three countries.  The final day will be devoted to developing a national action plan for red panda conservation in Bhutan and a transboundary conservation plan for Bhutan and India.

The aim is to encourage better coordination of red panda conservation within Bhutan and with neighbouring districts to ensure safe movement of animals and support sustainable populations. Keep watching this site for workshop outcomes!

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Herders learn about community-led conservation in Sikkim and pasture sites in Bhutan

From 19 February 2018, twelve Merak herders (4 female and 8 male) and two district officers (forestry and livestock), went on a study tour to Sikkim, India to learn about community benefits from red panda conservation. At the villages of Yuksum (1300m) and Okrey (2300m), herders learnt how local communities were benefiting from ecotourism by offering homestays, trekking services, food, and even Rhododendron Wine! However with more than 6,000 visitors per year, solid waste has become an issue so a resource recovery centre was established. Herders were shown how to segregate waste and use materials for making handicrafts to sell back to tourists!

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Okrey is an entry point to Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary bordering Singalila National Park, famous for rich diversity of Rhododendron and conservation of Red Panda. Herders trekked 4.5 km uphill through bamboo thickets, well managed to feed Red Panda by the Department of Forest. Though Red Panda couldn’t be sighted, herders were excited to learn about the mechanism of revenue generation from red panda ecotourism activities. Last stop in Sikkim was the Sikkim Himalayan Zoological Park located 3 km from Gangtok to observe captive Red Panda breeding and other charismatic wildlife species.  

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At Phobjikha, herders interacted with bee keeping farmers and learnt about the benefits and challenges in rearing bees. They also visited the Black Crane Information Center to learn about community based conservation initiatives to protect crane habitat in the valley leading to enhancement of income generation from tourism. Participants visited Bumthang dairy farm where the farm manager showed silage preparation and storage process, milking machine, cattle shed and hygiene management process to maintain the health of the animals. Participants also visited improved pasture management sites maintained by the farm to feed their animals on a rotational basis.

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Participant feedback revealed the following plans to adopt some practices;

  • Install waste bins in strategic locations and create awareness to manage waste in their locality.
  • Generate income by brewing Rhododendron wine
  • Host visitors to Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Start apiculture in their pasture land in the coming year to diversify income
  • Request to be trained in how to make silage to overcome winter fodder shortage

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Fencing for pasture and red panda habitat: the tale of two brothers

Twin brothers Nima and Dawa are a very industrious pair. They have combined their allocated 2.5 acre pasture plots to establish 5 acres of improved pasture this spring at their winter grazing area. Fencing of the pasture area has been completed and is now ready for soil preparation and sowing. In Bhutan, Nima means Sun and Dawa is Moon. They live up to their names as great examples of co-operation and dedication to their environment.

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Nima recently returned from the project sponsored study tour to see red panda conservation in Sikkim. As a result, the brothers have decided to fence off part of their grazing lease for red panda habitat to allow regeneration of bamboo and forest under-storey. They are leading the way as true community stewards for red panda conservation. Thank you to Nima and Dawa and your families!

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