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Understanding prey-predator dynamics 

Assessing the quality of wildlife habitat, determining the capacity of grazing land to initiate livestock intensification programme, and determining prey-predator dynamics to understand the root cause of conflict were some of the recommendations made to better manage the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary.

This was presented at the annual Bhutan Ecological Society research symposium in Thimphu that ended on December 3. 

About 246 households in Sakteng, Merak, and Joenkhar, the settlements inside and nearby the sanctuary, were interviewed for the study last year.

Forest officer at the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, Sonam Wangyel, said the study was important to develop and draw sound management plans to protect the sanctuary, besides generating baseline information on the park.

“Crop loss is one of the challenges the people face. From the three places, people of Joenkhar were mostly dependent on subsistence agriculture for livelihood.”

He said that about 85 percent of the people’s income comes from livestock rearing and that only eight percent of the park area was suitable for agriculture.

Close to half of the respondents said there was an increase in the severity of the crop damage while 21 percent respondents maintained that the trend was in the decline.  About 29 percent of respondents felt that the trend remained the same, he said.

Farmers reported guarding their crops. “They made scarecrows and build watch- towers. They also built barricades of about a feet high which was reported to be effective against porcupines.”

More than 70 percent respondents stated that porcupines damaged the largest quantity of crops followed by monkey, and wild boar, he said.

Birds, squirrels, barking deer, Himalayan black bears, and civets also damaged crops in the study area.

On an average in a year, the guarding period was equivalent to about three months, he said. “Taking into account the annual mean guarding days and cereal crop production, a household loses close to Nu16, 816 as opportunity cost a season.”

He said that the overall mean annual income of household in the study area was about Nu 69, 401.35.

Merak earned the highest with a mean annual income of about Nu 101, 372.80 followed by Sakteng at Nu 56, 880. Joenkhar’s mean annual income was Nu 19, 575.

Sonam Wangyel said people also made income from activities such as business, ecotourism, performing religious activities and sale of agricultural and livestock products, among others. “However, a majority of people depended on daily wages from carpentry or contract works followed by the sale of livestock production.”

Maize was the dominant cereal, although people cultivated dry land paddy, wheat, and vegetables.

Studying the main conflict species like wild dog, monkey, porcupine, and boars would also help make better management, he said.

Contrary to the increasing trend of crop damage, the livestock depredation trend in the past five years was declining, Sonam Wangyel said. “More than half of the respondents said that depredation was decreasing. Livestock rearing is also one of the major sources of income for the people.”

In the last five years, Merak saw the highest number of livestock depredation with wild dogs preying on the highest number of animals, he said. “However, the productivity of livestock is less compared to the number of livestock. Only about 30 percent was productive.”

With road connectivity enabling an increase in economic opportunities, it was important to properly manage the sanctuary, he said.

Rinchen Zangmo 

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