Although a charismatic species with its critical role in shaping the forest ecosystems, research concluded the Asian elephant continues to face threats of extinction globally.
To maintain a viable population of elephants in an improved habitat with reduced human-elephant conflict in Bhutan, the Elephant Conservation Action Plan from 2018 to 2028 was launched on July 31.
The action plan aims to prevent habitat loss and improve the existing elephant habitat conditions. Past studies reported habitat degradation due to intensive livestock grazing along the international border depleting the food availability of elephants. “Incidences of streams completely tapped for irrigation or drinking in the human settlements are causing shortage of water for wildlife.”
Un-prescribed fire from across the borders results in degraded soil quality, thus eroding the mineral lick for the species.
Increased human-elephant conflict in the south was attributed to disturbed habitat. Due to expansion of urban areas and developmental activities, there were reports of disruption in elephant migratory routes.
Crop raiding was found to be the most prevalent form of human-elephant conflict causing socio-economic losses to farmers in the south. In retaliation, few elephants died as a result of food poisoning and electrocution, according to observations from field officers.
To curb loss of lives and crops, the action plan identified the cause of conflicts, mapped the conflict hotspots, and identified strategic action towards mitigating the conflicts.
Categorised into seven objectives, various outputs and actions were included under each objective. The plan would also improve coordination among stakeholders to prevent poaching and stop illegal trade of elephant products.
With less than 50,000 individuals in the wild around 13 range countries, the Asian elephant is listed as an endangered species under International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Elephants are protected under Schedule I of the Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan 1995.
The national elephant survey 2017 estimated a population of 678 elephants in the southern foothills.
The government, Bhutan for Life, and donors such as WWF, BTFEC, UNDP, Bhutan Foundation and other international donors funded the plan.
With Nu 440 million, Nature Conservation Division will implement the action plan from July 2019 to June 2029.