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Projects in Bhutan

Community Engagement & Elephant Habitat Restoration in Royal Manas National Park, Bhutan

Chris Rico

 Villagers that worked on the construction

Villagers that worked on the construction

 Villagers maintaining the mineral salts around the watering holes

Villagers maintaining the mineral salts around the watering holes

Last March, Jigme Dorji of the Royal Manas National Park Department of Forestry approached us for funds to begin a community-led habitat restoration project.  The village of Tanzema has lived with wild elephants near them for generations and they are now dedicated to restoring their habitat.

The goal for the local residents and farmers is to mitigate human-elephant conflict in the most effective and wildlife-friendly manner as possible. This includes replanting of forest areas to encourage natural foraging, providing a clean water source and mineral salt lick, and the construction of a community center.  It is important to note that this project was proposed by the villagers and the labor is being done by them.

 The beginning stages of the community center

The beginning stages of the community center

While the clean water system is being built to deter elephants and keep them on the perimeter of their city, it is also helping to provide the people of the community with clean drinking water.  While the watering holes will be most useful in winter, the salt licks are replenished monthly.  The sites seem to be getting much traffic from elephants!

We are happy to report that the community center is 50% complete.  It will have a meeting hall, a prayer center, two guest houses, and bathrooms.

So far the villagers have encountered one elephant that came into the village that stayed for two days; they were able to chase him away without the use of any negative stimuli.  Two cows were taken and eaten by Bengal tigers during the project which only strengthened the resolved of the villagers to find and use the best methods possible to keep both people and animals safe.

 HDPE piping supplies for the water systems

HDPE piping supplies for the water systems

In the next year, the community hopes to plant native trees for the elephants to eat and construct a nature trail.  We very much look forward to continued updates from this area.  We are inspired by the villagers’ dedication to protecting and coexisting with their natural surroundings.  

Human-Elephant Conflict Program for Schools

Chris Rico

HEC in Bhutan has become an increasing problem, especially around the perimeter of the Royal Manas National Park (RMNP).  Mr. Yeshy Wangdi is a forestry official from the area and has conducted several HEC awareness programs in nearby schools over the years.  This past year the classes were held at two local schools within the RMNP buffer zone.  The goal is for students to learn the natural history, biology, and ultimately the cultural value of elephants within their society.  The hope is for these children to go on and teach their relatives and other community members about the importance of saving elephants within their country and how to coexist peacefully.  The program consisted of a PowerPoint presentation, a role-play enactment of elephant conflict, prizes, and a Q&A session.  After following up with the students, Mr. Wangdi found and overall 75% increase in positive attitude towards elephants from the kids.  We’d call that a success!

Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation Workshops

Vanessa Gagne

“The current trend of human-elephant conflict in Bhutan is very scary.  This is because it involves two important dimensions – the livelihood of the poor farmer and conservation of the endangered Asian elephants.”

The above quote, submitted by Yeshey Wangdi, Senior Park Ranger, Royal Manas National Park, is in his final report covering the first series of community workshops.   Ranger Wangdi is offering HEC mitigation workshops to communities created by government resettlement in areas that were previously forested elephant corridors and are now experiencing a steadily increasing incidence of human-elephant conflict.  The workshop includes some general biology and behavior of elephants as well as the do’s and don’ts of living with elephants.  Mini dramas were performed to help the people understand more peaceful ways of coexisting with these large and strong pachyderms, and school bags were given to all students and teachers, with their agreement to share the HEC awareness program with their nearby communities.

As Ranger Wangdi so succinctly states, “HEC entails need for strategy that will favorably create win-win for both the parties (people and elephants)”.