Friday, April 27, 2012

A nature park for each dzongkhag

A few years from now, almost all the twenty dzongkhags in the country might have a nature recreational park each.
The success of the pilot Royal Botanical Park (RBP) at Lamperi has given the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) enough confidence and reasons to start replicating it in all dzongkhags. In fact, Thimphu Dzongkhag already has one at Kuensel Phodrang with two more in the making.
“Inception of such parks at Samtse and Bumthang are already in the pipeline.  In addition, as of now, more than seventy proposals have been received from dzongkhags, territorial divisions and parks for inception of nature recreational park,” remarked an official from Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division (NRED).
“However, translating such ambitious plans into actions will depend upon the availability of funds and human resources, since establishment of such recreational facilities entail lot of investment – both financial and technical,” clarified Sonam Choden, Offtg. Chief Forestry Officer, NRED.
Even if the structures take time, the lands will be acquired and registered to be developed as nature recreational parks. This, according to NRED officials will prevent lands being used for constructions of buildings. The land will remain within the custody of the government and will be available for development into parks when required.
The basic amenities in the recreation park according to Sonam Choden will consist of nature trails, picnic spots, signage, toilet facilities, resting canopies, children’s play ground and other facilities.
The Lamperi Park in its last six years of existence has fulfilled most of its inception mandates of identifying and securing appropriate areas for the benefits of the public  namely nature recreation and ecotourism programs. Besides, the conservation of flora and fauna, the park also imparts environmental education programs to create awareness about conservation issues and garner support towards conservation of Bhutan’s natural heritage. The park receives educational visits by many teachers and students from Thimpu, Paro, Wangdue and Punakha Dzongkhags besides local and international visitors. “The families from these urban towns also come during the weekends to avail the facilities,” mentioned one park official.
“With ever increasing developmental activities and urbanization, the access to  natural recreational facilities is being   increasingly  felt,” noted Tshering Phuntsho from Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN). According to Sonam Lhamo, Nature Club Coordinator of Yangchenphug Higher Secondary School, the concept of taking such recreational facilities into other urban cities is an exceptionally good idea.

Combating forest fires need new equipment

Fire on slopes travels four times faster than fire on flat ground, according to studies.
And battling forest fires in a mountainous country like Bhutan becomes a daunting task especially  at areas where there is no road access. Steep mountainous terrain coupled with lack of effective fire fighting tools make it even more difficult for the fire fighters.
Water bag and locally available tools are the only effective equipment.
Apart from prevention programs, the Forest Fire Management Section (FFMS) under the Forest Protection and Enforcement Division are into procuring most effective hand tools to be distributed in the field.
“The fire suppression in difficult topography is very challenging since we heavily depend on manpower,” said head of FFMS, Bap Tandin Dorji.
He added that besides effective tools, public and armed forces support is very crucial as the forestry personnel under the department alone cannot do much when battling a fire on the mountains.
“Conventionally, fire fighters use tree branches to douse fires and this is detrimental from the environmental point of view,” he said adding that it is also scatters the burning embers which poses risk of fire in another spot.
“Although most wild fire outbreaks in the country occur within the road network because of human activity, fire   sparks off in other inaccessible areas,too” Chief Forestry Officer, Sonam Wangchuk said.
“However where there is no motorable road, it takes quite a long time for us to reach the fire spot in the first place. By the time the fire fighters reach the spot, fire would already have spread in larger areas and gained intensity.”
Bap Tandin Dorji said that “the recent fire in Namselling took us three days to suppress which if it had been within the road accessibility would have been doused within one day.”
The most effective tools that has been recommended should be bought are Fedco Back Pack water pump which can hold 20lts of water. The water from the back pack can cool down the fire which is then suppressed further with the use flapper.
Besides, the section is also trying to purchase power chainsaw; Pulaski axe which is a dual-headed implement used both as a chopping axe and as a ‘grub-hoe’-style pickaxe for aggressive digging especially in rough, rocky terrain.
The fire that occurs in blue pine and other conifer zones, fuelled by strong winds often travel about six meters from one tree to another. In such  cases, power chainsaw can be useful and handy to cut down trees and create a small clearing to create a fire break.
“Other fire fighting tools and equipment such as knives, knapsacks, water pumps, flappers, racks, spades and axe are some of the equipment which is effective,” added Divisional Forestry Officer Phento Tshering.

Red Panda cub yet to be relocated

(Photo Courtesy Sangay Dorji Forest Officer)
Although there are plans to relocate Phub Dem, a Red Panda rescued from Trongsa by Forest Protection and Surveillance Unit (FPSU) of Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) as a two-month old cub, to Lamperi Botanical Park (RBP), it could not be done till date.
This according to officials of the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD) is due to budget constraints.
“Lamperi has been identified as a setting close to the Red Panda natural habitat but we need to put in place certain structures such as fences and barricades which are required to protect the panda from predators,” said Sangay Dorji of WCD. The Red Panda is commonly predated upon by the common leopard, and wild and domestic dogs which frequent the area.
Phub Dem has now attained an age of about seven months. According to the literature review done by Sangay Dorji for his MSc thesis on Red Panda, it attains sexual maturity at an age of about 18-20 months. The fences or the barricades will be built to ensure that a male panda can climb inside and mate her.
He also added that the Red Panda will be moved to Lamperi for educational and advocacy purposes. The visitors to the park will be able to see the panda for real and understand the animal better. This will help towards protecting and conserving the animal in the wild.
The cub could not acquire its natural survival instinct since she lost her parents at a very tender age. Hence, the forest officials wanted to make sure the panda cub is ready. “The cub survived with cow milk, later substituted with fruits and digestive biscuits,” said Sangay Dorji adding that since bamboo is the primary diet of panda, the cub had to be trained to accept the change in diet. “At first the cub suffered from diarrhea when we fed it bamboo leaf treated with honey. Now, it can feed normally and is very healthy too.”
The cub was in custody of a businessman in Trongsa when FPSU rescued it on 18 August last year. He is said to have found the cub by the roadside on the Trongsa-Bumthang highway during one of his routine business trips.

Ex-monk impersonating Druk Air official arrested

A 32-year old ex-monk from Haa who impersonated a Druk Air official was arrested for conning a 35- year old woman on April 20.
According to the victim’s statement, she knew the suspect through talking with him over the phone. They had been in contact for a month.
The victim asked for her “call-friend’s” help in procuring dollars when he claimed to be a Druk Air official and promised to help her.
On March 22, the victim met with the suspect at the Druk Air office with Nu 0.2 mn  for exchange.
The man is suspected to have disappeared from the other exit with the money while the woman waited the whole day.
Finally, when the suspect did not turn up, she informed the police who arrested him at Chunzom while he was returning from Phuentsholing because right after the act, he went to Jaigaon and Falakatta.
Police could not recover the money but the suspect has confessed to the crime and the case is still under investigation.
This is the fourth con case reported this year.

Bhutanese poachers behind killing of Tiger and Leopard

Forest officials track down and apprehend three long-time poachers. The tiger was poached by their Indian counterparts along the Assam-Bhutan border on request while the leopard was killed in Nganglam.
Three long-time Bhutanese poachers were apprehended in connection with the illegal transaction of tiger and leopard parts on 26 March.
However, what could send shockwaves through Bhutan’s conservation community is that the Tiger was killed along the Assam-Bhutan border near the Royal Manas National Park by Indian poachers on the request of the Bhutanese poachers. The poachers confessed that the Tiger had been killed a month ago.
Sources, say that the apprehended Bhutanese poachers had a well-established network with Indian poachers from whom they bought Tiger skin and then planned to sell it to Chinese buyers using the Paro and Haa route to smuggle the skin.
An official involved in the investigation said that though this was the first case of its kind there could be other unreported cases.
The Bhutanese poachers themselves had killed a leopard in Neshingborang forest under Norbugang village, Nganglam by adding poison to the carcass of the horse it had consumed.
The poachers were apprehended in Nganglam under Samdrup Jongkhar by the Forest Protection and Surveillance Unit (FPSU).
The offenders stated that the tiger skin was bought at a sum of Nu 95,000 from their friends but the bones were not handed over to them by their Indian counterparts.
The poachers involved are Kinzang Wangdi (50) who is a carpenter by profession from Gelephu, Tashi Namgay (40 plus) and Sonam Phuntsho (40 plus) both of who are from Nganglam.
According to their confessions, the mastermind was Tashi Namgay who had his links with the Indian poachers and also made the plan. The person who financed the entire operation was Sonam Phuntsho while Kinzang Wangdi was a willing collaborator.
On 23 March, the officials upon being tipped off by their informers recruited a middle man who would on the pretext of being a buyer fix a date and place for trading.
The poachers agreed that the transaction would take place at Nganglam and the price was fixed at Nu 500,000 for the skins.
On the same day, the FPSU team proceeded to Nganglam via Gelephu and upon reaching Nganglam, sent the middle man to situate the exact area where the poached items were alleged to have been kept.
The man took almost two hours to get to the site with the help of two local men who took him to Sonam Phuntsho, at the end of a farm road, almost 25 to 30 km long. He helped the middle man locate the items which was kept a few meters away from the farm road with one of his friends.
As instructed by the officials, the middle man returned with the photographs of the items and the suspects. After verifying the photographs, the suspects were asked to bring the items to Nganglam for the final payment.
On 26 March, the poachers were supposed to bring the items in a taxi at around 10:15 am but when the officials apprehended the suspects, the tiger and leopard parts were missing.
The officials however interrogated the suspects in Nganglam range and the footage captured by the middle man established the suspects’ guilt.
The suspects after their confession to the act revealed that the items were kept veiled in the ceiling of a hut where they were residing.
The offenders stated that the tiger skin was bought at a sum of Nu 95,000 from their friends but the bones were not handed over to them by their Indian counterparts.
The Tiger skin measured nine feet by eight inch in length and one foot by 11 inch in breadth while the leopard skin measured six feet by 11 inch in length and two feet by one inch in breadth. These were confiscated from the poachers.
“The items were handed over to the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD) to be kept at the Taxidermy Center in Taba where it will be mounted,” said Deputy Chief Forestry Officer, FPSU, Karma Tenzin.
One of the three suspects is a repeat offender and the case has been settled as per the provision of Forest and Nature Conservation Rules, 2006.
It is estimated that there are around 100 tigers in Bhutan. In early 2008 the Bhutanese forest officials found pug mark and photographic evidence that Tigers in Bhutan were also being found at the snowline. This was reported by the local media.
In 2010, a BBC crew without crediting existing Bhutanese data claimed to have ‘discovered’ a lost tiger population at high elevation creating an international sensation. The global Tiger population is estimated to be between 3,062 to 3,948.