The location of the new Nganglam town right on the way of a crucial biological corridor has raised the age-old debate on development versus conservation
If the newly planned Nganglam town is developed, it could disrupt the natural migration of animals eventually leading to extinction of rare species in future.
The Nganglam town plan falls on the path of a healthy biological corridor between the Royal Manas National Park (RMNP) and Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary (KWS). A recent survey carried out by the RMNP through World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reveals that the new town plan and other human rehabilitation programs in the area could affect the corridor.
The two corridors between Phibsoo, RMNP, and KWS are home to around 20 medium to large mammal species which includes a lone Red Panda, Civets, Asiatic Elephant, Sambar, Marbled Cat, barking Deer, Himalayan Black Bear, Tiger, Black Panther, Clouded Leopard and Wild Boars, among others.
Evidence of a tigress with two cubs has also been photographed, which is the first of its kind in Bhutan, along the corridors connecting Manas.
“This shows that the area is ecologically vibrant as both tigers and their prey have been recorded in the corridors,” said an RMNP official.
The chief of the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD), Sonam Wangchuk, said the new town plan will affect the biological corridor between RMNP and KWS as there are evidences that the corridor is functioning well.
“There are evidences of different animals being spotted in the corridor, this shows that the corridor is well functioning,” said Sonam Wangchuk.
He said the biological corridors are important for the movement of animals. “If the animals are confined to just one protected area, in future there are chances that animals in the area may become genetically weaker due to inbreeding and theses animals do not live long,” he said.
According to a functionality survey of the biological corridor between RMNP and KWS, the preliminary findings revealed that the habitat loss and fragmentation are most pervasive threat to the corridor.
“The fragmentation may lead to isolation of small populations which may lead to extinction of wildlife in the years to come,” states the functionality survey.
A senior program officer of the WWF-Bhutan, Mincha Wangdi, however said the biological corridor may become narrow but it will not really affect the movement of the animals in a huge way.
He also said the corridor which falls between RMNP and KWS has had human settlements before the establishment of the biological corridor.
“We will now have to look at different alternatives which have minimum impact on the corridor as well as the people,” said Mincha Wangdi.
The RMNP survey also shows that apart from the new town plan and the human resettlement programs, illegal timber felling and poaching within the corridor continues at an alarming rate.
“This is becoming another challenge to keep the biological corridor safe and functioning,” said an RMNP official.
Other challenges include the emergence of a few factories such as mining of charcoal and silicon factory in the corridor and the highway.
Furthermore, the extension of Samdrup Jongkhar municipal area, hospital and a part of Samdrup Jongkhar town also falls under the corridor.
A senior advisor to the National Environment Commission, Dasho Paljor J. Dorji, said the issue is being discussed at the moment. “We have informed the government about it,” said Dasho Paljor J. Dorji.
The biological corridor began in the late 1990s with the strong focus on enhancement of movement of animals among protected areas.
The biological corridor that connects RMNP and KWS falls under Pemagatshel and Samdrup Jongkhar dzongkhags. It extends from Tanzima village under Norbugang gewog in Pemagatshel till Phuntshothang gewog under Samdrup Jongkhar.
According to the RMNP, since the inception of biological corridors the management of corridors have not really picked up. This was because biological corridors have been confronted with development activities threatening its functionality.
As an interim measure, the rehabilitation programs located in the corridor have also been realigned to ensure some area of natural forest is kept aside for wildlife movement.