Friday, December 30, 2016

Camera trap records of Asiatic golden cat at high altitudes in Bhutan

In 2015, a camera trapping exercise was carried out in the unexplored frontiers of eastern Bhutan. The study area covered parts of Wangchuck Centennial National Park, Phrumsengla National Park and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary. The terrain is undulating, and elevations within the study area range from2,485 m to 4,958 m. In total, 100 grids were laid across the entire study area and at every camera trap station; two cameras (Reconyx HC500 Hyperfire “passive infra-red cameras”) were placed so as to capture both flanks of the animal that passes by. The cameras were
deployed from June to September 2015.

During the survey, a common morph of the Asiatic golden cat was recorded at a camera trap (27°42’56.6” N / 90°55’37.1” E) at an elevation of 4,282 m in the montane forests of Wangchuck Centennial National Park, the largest protected area in Bhutan. The animal was photographed walking along a game trail in a rhododendron scrub. This is thus far the highest recorded elevation at which Asiatic golden cats have been detected throughout their entire range. The previous highest record was at 4,033 m in Jigme Dorji National Park in northern Bhutan (Jigme 2011).During the same survey, a spotted “ocelot” morph of the Asiatic golden cat was also detected at a record elevation of 3,999 m in rhododendron forest of Phrumsengla National Park (27°35’00.2”N / 90°58’34.4” E) in Central Bhutan. Historically, the morph was known only from China; however, it was first reported in Bhutan in Serphu in Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park at 3,738 m (Wang 2007). In 2014, the morph was recorded in a conifer forest at 3,717 m in Bumthang (Vernes et al. 2015). So far, the ocelot morphs have only been camera trapped above 3,600 m suggesting that there may be a selection for specific morphs at different altitudes (Jigme 2011).

To date, very few targeted studies have been conducted on the Asiatic golden cat in its range countries; however, many by-catch camera trap photographs of the species have been recorded at high altitudes. A survey in Sikkim, India reported the species in altitudes ranging from 1,980 m to 3,960 m, all comprising of the melanistic morph, and suggested that the species is more common in montane forests (Bashir et al. 2011). In Nepal, it was photographed at an elevation of 2,517 m (Yadav & Pal 2009), and in China at 3,170 m (Smith & Xie 2008). In Bhutan, Jigme (2011) reported grey, ocelot and black morphs above 2,500 m, with the grey morphs at relatively higher altitudes of 3,900 m, and golden morphs between 1800 m to 4,033 m.

A recent survey in central Bhutan reported 11 occurrences of the species between 2,985 m to 3,900 m (Vernes et al. 2015). Thinley et al. (2015) reported its occurrences between elevation ranges of 3488 m to 3,810 m in Jigme Dorji National Park. In the present survey, the species was recorded between 3,161 m to 4,282 m. The findings from this and other recent studies suggest that the highlands may play a significant role in terms of conservation of the species in Bhutan and in the region. The South and South-east Asian region is currently undergoing the world’s fastest deforestation rate. As a result, the Asiatic golden cat, which is primarily a forest dependent species, is threatened by significant habitat loss and fragmentation across its range (McCarthy et al. 2015). It is widely perceived that human intercession in land use has changed forest cover over time and become a proximate component that catalyses deforestation and forest degradation (Ives & Messerli 1989). In many instances, human pressures on natural resources are higher at lower elevations which can be more readily accessible. In Sikkim, India, extensive clear cutting continues, especially in more easily reachable southern districts, while the northern highlands seem to have good forest cover. In Nepal, lowland Terai have suffered extensive planned and spontaneous deforestation over the years (Ives & Mersserli 1989). In Bhutan, a net forest loss has been observed mainly along the southern, more lowland half of the country (Bruggeman et al. 2016). Here, development coupled with rising population pressure on the forests, and land conversion is a noteworthy threat to the species (McCarthy et al. 2015, Dhendup 2016a, b).

With lowland areas becoming more prone to fragmentation and degradation as a result of increasing human activities, highland regions represent an important refuge for the Asiatic golden cat. Because of their remoteness and inaccessibility, the highlands are less infringed upon by human activities, and are often more pristine, providing a relatively undisturbed habitat for the species. They may also act as natural corridors for individuals traversing between different forest patches (Mohamad et al. 2013). As such, it is imperative that these highlands are well preserved and are given special consideration for the species while planning conservation initiatives and other developmental activities.

The full paper can be found as

Dhendup,T., Tempa, Tshering & Norbu, Nawang (2016). Camera trap records of Asiatic golden cat at high altitudes in Bhutan. CATnews 64 Autumn.

Monday, October 3, 2016

New distribution record of the Bhutan Takin Budorcas taxicolor whitei Hodgson, 1850 (Cetartiodactyla: Bovidae) in Bhutan

For the first time, a Bhutan Takin Budorcas taxicolor whitei was camera trapped in the eastern part of Wangchuck Centennial National Park (27056’03.8’’E & 91004’53.7’’N) and is by thus far, the easternmost documented evidence of Takin presence in Bhutan. A lone individual was photographed at 3,898m in the upper mixed fir and rhododendron forest of Thomthom area in northeastern part of Lhuentse District, which also forms a part of the upper watersheds of Kurichu River (Image 1). The animal was found at about a few hundred metres away from a trail which is extensively used by the Bhutanese army for border patrols and also by forest officials for anti-poaching patrols. Other species which were recorded at the site included the Himalayan Black Bear Ursus thibetanus, Asiatic Golden Cat Catopuma temminckii and Blood Pheasant Ithaginis cruentus. Old signs of poaching such as remnants of traps made out of rhododendron branches were also observed in the nearby ridges. The camera trapping exercise spanned the uplands of Wangchuck Centennial National Park, Phrumsengla National Park, Singye Dzong area in Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary and districts of Bumthang, Monger, Trashi Yangtse and Gasa. Ninety-nine camera trap stations were set up and the total sampling effort realized was 2,079 trap days.
In Bhutan, the species is believed to occur in scattered populations throughout forested and unforested mountain slopes on Bhutan’s northern border (Song et al. 2009). Previously, the species was documented up to Dhur in Wangchuck Centennial National Park and then later in 2011 at Rodungla (27034’56.4”E & 90058’59.4”N) in Phrumsengla National Park (Wangchuk 2011). Another interesting finding from the camera trap exercise is photographs of Bhutan Takin at elevations of 4,864m in Gomthang under Wangchuck Centennial National Park (Image 2). Previously, Bhutan Takin was not known above 4,200m (Sharma et al. 2015). This suggests that in their search for food and seasonal migration across landscapes, they traverse routes much above the tree line into the snowline. However, this assumption will need to be validated through carefully designed studies. Also, to protect the species and its seasonal habits, these highlands should receive priority conservation attention.Classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List category, the species is believed to be threatened by overhunting and habitat loss across its distribution range and its population is believed to be declining globally. In Bhutan, it confronts threats from competition and disease transmission from domestic livestock, habitat loss and loss or disruption of migration routes (Song et al. 2009). The species lacks a proper population status and clear migration routes within the country. It is listed in Schedule I species of Forest and Nature Conservation Act of 1995 and has also been declared as the national animal of Bhutan.

Dhendup, T., T. Tempa, T. Tshering & N. Norbu
 (2016)New distribution record of the Bhutan Takin Budorcas taxicolor whitei Hodgson, 1850 (Cetartiodactyla: Bovidae) in BhutanJournal of Threatened Taxa 8(11): 9365–9366;

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In Bhutan, happiness is policy and tiger numbers are on the rise

The Kingdom of Bhutan, a Himalayan country about the size of Switzerland, could be taken as an example by many countries in the world. 70% of its land is still covered in forests. It is estimated that Bhutan forests sequestrate 3 times more carbon dioxide than the country emits. Close to 100% of its electricity is produced by hydropower. The Kingdom is also - and this is what interests us most - home to 103 tigers and counting. The latest survey carried out in 2014-2015 confirms that the tiger population has increased by more than a third from the previous population estimate. The surveywas conducted by the Bhutanese Department of Forests and Park Services, now ITHCP grantee.

These facts place Bhutan amongst the top sustainable countries in the world. This is no surprise as Bhutan's principles have been inscribed in policy through the gross national happiness index, based on equitable social development, cultural preservation, conservation of the environment and promotion of good governance.

Indeed, since the coronation of the fourth Druk Gyalpo (King of Bhutan) Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972, Bhutan rejected the notion of GDP as the only way to measure progress and instead championed a new approach to development “Gross National Happiness - GNH”. GNH is a holistic and sustainable approach to development, which balances material and non-material values, with the conviction that humans want to search for happiness.

One of the four main pillars of GNH is conservation of the environment and over the years it has allowed Bhutan to retain its forest cover intact – and even restore patches of forests - along with numerous rare and endangered animals that inhabit them. Perhaps it is the concept of GNH that has allowed the harmonious co-existence of nature and people together. Amongst the incredible biodiversity of Bhutan we can name the tiger, the snow leopard, the dhole, the takin, the Asiatic black bear, the Asian elephant & the red panda.

A particularity of Bhutan, and in particular Royal Manas National Park – RMNP where the ITHCP project is being carried out, is that communities live within the boundaries of national parks. Aside from the core zone, in RMNP there are multiple use zones which people inhabit, in addition to the more common buffer zones at the fringes of the Park. Hence, with people living inside parks, the success of management depends not only on species conservation alone but also on the success story of communities. Tigers, as a flagship species, have always been at the heart of conservation in Bhutan. In a time when the most important threat to tiger survival there is retaliatory killing - i.e. after a tiger attacks cattle -, the most pragmatic way forward is to embed people into conservation programmes and bring them tangible benefits as a result.

As such the ITHCP project in Royal Manas National Park is timely. It provides interventions in terms of (i) preventing loss of tiger through anti-poaching measures; (ii) improving tiger habitats by uplifting livelihoods of communities; (iii) ensuring proper land use planning and (iv) enhancing regional co-operation supported by a strong monitoring framework. This is the first ITHCP project led by a government agency.

Please find more details on this project here.

By Tashi Dhendup, Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (DoFPS - Bhutan Government) & Thomas Gelsi, IUCN.
Taken from

Monday, September 5, 2016

A Thought

And as I lay by the bank of the mighty Manas river,
I could feel the cold water on my feet, the sun burning my skin, the breeze whispering summons I couldnt comprehend,
the sight of the unending span of forest running to the endless horizon
And a sincere but a heavy heart of metal surviving within me.
I could feel the five elements.
And then I knew at that hour,
That I am alive but at the same time dead
I knew,
That I am nothing but dust

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Its a good life

Ugyencholing Museum,Tang

He often visits me at home
The keeper at Mebartsho

A cute girl at the Jampa Lhakhang Tshechu

And he was my porter @Trongsa

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mixed Feelings

Nights were never so intoxicating
Never so charming and seductive
As if my heart, someone is sedating
And as if, to this soul love is native.

A mixed feeling keeps on rising
The heat, the heartbeat and the lips
Mingling the souls in a way surprising
Yet a shy innocence within it keeps

The fire lights the pain and the pleasure
And betters the mind and souls conflict
This thing which once started as a leisure
Now stands as a beautiful verdict.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Another World Inside Every Place I go"

Sunsets are so beautiful: Washington DC

The outskirts of Bangkok City

A busy morning outside MBK Centre@BKK

Lights#Hanging: Siam Discovery@BKK

Escalators Criss Cross: Siam BKK

The Start of the Himalayan Foothills of Bhutan

Himalayan Foothills rising to touch the sky@Bhutan

And it snowed in the sky but didnt fall down to earth@Dusty Clouds

Hobbies revolves around these@Washington DC

The building currently housing the NEON Project@ West Virginia

Cute ship relplicas@BKK

An evening walk by the hostel:Refreshing@ West VA

A rest from statistics: Weekends@West VA

A woman gave us a tour of her house: Pre-Civil war Era#Haunted@West VA

National Air and Space Museum@Dulles Washington DC

Our hike passed along this board:Weekends

Enjoying beer for the weekend while canoeing: Shenandoah River

Ducks along the Shenandoah River

Ducks, a different kind this time :D

A freshwater turtle: My first time in the wild@Shenandoah River


Orange Juice in a cup#Overlooked

The only window in the room@Smithsonian Hostel

Combinations: I love taking pictures in monochrome

My Bed with a not so fancy setting@SMSC

Reflections in Monochrome

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Some memorable stills from Tang and other times(Jan-Feb,2014)

Dra-Lha Ritual @Punakha
Queen of Spain#Fritillaria

Bulb#Hanging by a moment

A Road  leading away from Tashi Choeedzong

Cunningly Cute

Nice pose#Sparrow

Jen-Pa Lekso ;)

On a bridge across a river #LOL
A quiet Evening @Lamai Gonpa,Bumthang
Dawn arriving @Bumthang#Dekiling
A Canopy at kizom,Tang
A Stupa in the midst of emptiness@Tang
Water Prayer Wheel# Going strong with the flow
A bridge to help us keep connected
The Prayer flags,the rivers and the Landscape#Tang
5th Nomad Festival#Tang#Fun
A quiet night at my village#Punakha
Vehicles to disrupt the scenery& the environment
A house looking over#Tang
Standing firm#Punakha