As we enter the Year of the Tiger, characterized by universal respect and reverence for its namesake creature’s unique passion and fearlessness, the animal’s defenders are drawing inspiration from its enthusiasm and dynamism. In Bhutan, the Royal Manas National Park is home to countless valuable plant and wildlife species, including endangered animals such as one-horned rhinoceros, golden langur, Rufous-necked hornbills, Asiatic water buffalo and the Asian elephant, and rare migratory fish such as the golden mahseer and chocolate mahseer.
It is also one Bhutan's tiger strongholds and a hotspot for poaching due to its proximity to Indian borders that provide a gateway to illegal markets. The Bhutan Tiger Center estimates that Bhutan (and adjoining areas of India) has lost at least 19 adult tigers from 2012-2019, mostly to poaching – an eye-watering toll for a species with only ≈100 individuals remaining in the area. Meeting the conservation challenge to protect tigers and other wildlife requires not only educating people about the importance of these species, but also providing alternative, sustainable livelihoods for people sharing landscapes with wildlife.
Tourism and conservation
Tourism offers one such opportunity. Sangay Penjor, Namgay Wangchuck and Lam Dorji are three of the nine members of the River Guides of Panbang, a community-based rafting company that also runs a lodge in Panbang, a small town of about 1,600 people that lies adjacent to Royal Manas National Park and is only 13km from the Indian border. They have been running their tourism business for close to 10 years, simultaneously contributing to the well-being of their community as well as conservation goals.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought their tourism business to a grinding halt and acutely impacted their livelihoods and that of their community. Into this gap, water – in the form of aquaponics – is now flowing: to build the community’s resilience to the economic and social impacts of the pandemic, the Bhutan Ecological Society is pioneering aquaponic agriculture in Bhutan, thanks to a grant from the Covid-19 Response: Resilience in Wildlife Communities initiative by The Lion’s Share and the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme, which is implemented by UNDP.
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