The Royal Bengal tiger has been a symbol of religious power in Bhutan for centuries. The nation’s most famous monastery, Taktshang Goemba, is also known as the Tiger’s Nest, after the legend that Padmasambhava flew to this rocky outcrop on the back of a supernatural tigress. All over this remote mountain kingdom, visitors will see tigers painted in brilliant colours on the walls of houses, monasteries and palaces.
That makes it all the more surprising that the first official survey of tigers in Bhutan only took place in 2014. Using camera traps and other modern surveillance techniques, the inaugural Bhutanese national tiger survey recorded 103 tigers roaming wild in the rugged mountains of Bhutan. Remarkably, tigers were found not just in lowland jungle areas such as Royal Manas National Park, but also high in the foothills of the Himalaya.
New camera-trap footage released by the Department of Forests & Park Services has shown tigers thriving above 11,733 feet (3576m) in the wilderness corridor between Wangchuck Centennial National Park and Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. With Bhutan’s sparse human habitation – the population density is just 20 people per square kilometre, compared for 401 in neighbouring India – wildlife experts believe many more tigers may be living beyond human contact in remote mountain valleys.
A key focus of Bhutan’s fledgling tiger conservation strategy is to preserve stocks of the tigers’ natural prey. The mountains of Bhutan teem with musk deer, barking deer, sambar, takin (goat-antelopes), Himalayan tahr and blue sheep, providing a plentiful source of food for hunting tigers, and maintaining a balanced national ecosystem is an official Bhutanese government policy.