By Tashi Dema
Forest officials destroyed 121 snares in Thimphu region in 2013, and 18 in Bumthang
Conservation: While on the one hand, the country’s wildlife conservation policies have cost many farmers’ their livelihood, on the other hand, some farmers involved in rampant poaching of wild animals undermines conservation efforts.
Records maintained with forest officials showed poaching was not only confined to wild animals that came in conflict with humans, but also solitary animals that lived away from human habitation.
Forest director Chencho Norbu said the reason for poaching was to earn quick money.
In Thimphu region alone, in 2013, forest officials destroyed 121 snares set up to kill musk deer. In Thrumshingla, Bumthang, 18 snares were destroyed.
Foresters seized three musk deer pods from Wangduephodrang and two from Gasa.
Chencho Norbu said going by the trend of wildlife poaching, especially musk deer, it was alarming.
Citing the example of Soe Yaksa in north Thimphu, he said highlanders claimed the musk deer had vanished in recent years.
“Locals there said they do not even see the droppings now,” he said. “This would pose a serious problem to the ecosystem.”
Conservationists said musk deer was not only a prey for top predators like tigers, leopards and bears but its presence also balanced the natural world.
Wildlife conservation division’s chief forest officer Sonam Wangchuk said musk deer only fed on young shoots of plants and lichen and mosses.
“Moss and lichens are normally found away from human habitat, in the sub-alpine and temperate regions,” he said.
Musk deer traps, conservationists said had negative impact on the ecosystem, as other animals, including monal pheasants fell into the traps as well.
A forest official said poachers, while setting up traps normally cut off tree branches and that disturbed the habitats of musk deer and monal pheasants.
“The branches fall on the forest floor and cover the trails of these animals,” he said.
Another forester said the way poaching has been carried out in the recent years question people’s faith in religion.
“The way these animals are killed in snares is painful to even look at,” he said. “The animals were mostly hung as nooses around their necks tightened each time they struggled to free themselves.”
Besides musk deer, bear is the most poached wild animal and the country is also used as a conduit for smuggling tiger and elephant parts between the neighboring countries of China and India.
Foresters have also caught poachers trying to smuggle sandalwood between the two countries.
In December last year, poachers were arrested both from Jigme Dorji National Park and Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park.
In 2012, about nine school dropouts were caught trying to poach musk deer and it was found out they were looking to make easy money.
But foresters said the only solution to the illegal hunting was to pin the middlemen or the end market.
“To do that foresters need assistance from people, both in rural communities and urban areas,” Chencho Norbu said.
Foresters were also trying to find out what background the poachers came from and whether they had other sources of livelihood.
“Our studies indicated that poachers do not come from economically-deprived families,” a forest official said. “They drive vehicles and most poachers are taxi drivers.”
Sonam Wangchuk said it was not just imposing fine but important to educate and win hearts of the rural communities to look at the need from conservation for ecosystem, species and habitat.
To curb poaching forest officials said they needed collective efforts from gewogs and dzongkhags. “Gewog officials will know how people in their locality become rich,” Chencho Norbu said. “Gups should make efforts to convince them why the activities they engage in is bad and illegal.”
He also said they needed help from roadside workers, herders and tour guides, who play an important role.
“They should inform foresters of strangers visiting in their locality,” he said. “Such people only visit the forests for a purpose.”