By Tashi Dema
Year ender (Wildlife) The year of the snake came to the rescue of its kin, the reptilian tokay gecko.
The nocturnal Asian lizard, believed to be prized for its medicinal value in the illegal wildlife trade circuit, kept foresters in the southern belt busy, and the mainstream and social media active.
The reptile came into the limelight in October, when foresters of Gelephu range office rescued a 14-inch long tokay gecko from the Gelephu tsachu caretaker.
While the caretaker claimed he brought the lizard from Bangtar, Samdrupjongkhar, and intended to sell it to buyers in Samdrupjongkhar, he refused to pay the fine of Nu 100,000 foresters imposed on him.
Foresters had to drag the caretaker to court but, as the case proceeded, informers tipped off foresters that the caretaker had brought three geckoes.
Allegations were then made that the Gelephu dungpa had sent the caretaker to look for the gecko. It was also alleged that, while the dungpa kept one gecko, one was sent to a secretary in Thimphu.
Gelephu dungpa Pema Wangdi dismissed the allegations, saying a dungkhag official, who had an administrative issue, fabricated the story against him.
The case is still going on in Gelephu court.
Then foresters in Phuentsholing rescued five tokay geckoes from the gate, and foresters in Samtse also rescued a tokay gecko on January 6, and two Indians, who brought the reptiles from India, were fined Nu 50,000 each.
While foresters apprehended about 20 people for trying to illegally trade the geckoes in the last one year, forest officials have come on record to say that there was no end market for tokay geckoes.
A tokay gecko grows up to 15 inches, found mostly on rainforest trees and cliffs, and is also reared in captivity. It is not a protected or endangered species.
Forest officials, in September, revised the fine for attempting to catch tokay gecko to Nu 50,000. If someone was caught possessing the reptile, they are liable to a fine of Nu 100,000.
The snake year also saw rampant poaching of wild animals, undermining conservation efforts.
Forest officials destroyed 121 snares in Thimphu region and 18 in Bumthang alone.
Records, maintained with forest officials, show poaching was not only confined to wild animals that came in conflict with humans, but solitary animals too.
Foresters seized three musk deer pods from Wangduephodrang and two from Gasa.
Forest and park services’ director general, Chencho Norbu, came on record to say that, going by the trend of wildlife poaching, especially musk deer, the situation was alarming.
Citing the example of Soe Yaksa in north Paro, he said highlanders claimed the musk deer had vanished in recent years. No droppings, which could validate its presence, have been sighted and this, Chencho Norbu said, meant serious problems to the ecosystem.
Conservationists said musk deer was not only a prey for top predators like tigers, leopards and bears.
Human-wildlife conflict issues in rural pockets continued.
People in Samthang village of Athang, Wangduephodrang, recently lost 10 cattle heads to a royal Bengal tiger.
In Peljorling, Samtse, the elephant menace had farmers thinking they couldn’t continue living in the area, which is otherwise fertile for farming.
Zhemgang fought a losing battle with wasps, which claimed the lives of a young man, an elderly woman and an infant. A 38-year-old woman from Langdurbi was also injured.
The wasp attacked the man when he went to collect fodder, and the old woman and her grandson were stung when they were guarding maize. While the baby died an hour after the incident, the grandmother died the next morning.
In Trongsa, wild boar rampaged paddy fields. The men had to take the battle to the forest and chase away the animals. But the boar were back rampaging the fields as usual. More than 20 men from Nub Chutoe had to leave their field works and chase the boar for three days.
In Tsirang, nine men were convicted for taking the battle to the forest. The men were hunting wild boar when a poisoned arrow hit one of them.
On the brighter side, the snake year saw a milestone in Bhutan’s wildlife conservation and protection effort, when the wildlife conservation division launching its first tiger survey using camera traps. The survey is ongoing and about 1,500 cameras will be used to get a better understanding of tiger population, density, distribution and habitat status.
Through the survey, the precise numbers of tigers existing in the country can be known.
Wildlife conservation officials said studies done in the past were based on questionnaires and evidences collected from the paw marks.
The tiger survey would revalidate the status of tiger in the country.