This interview with Karma Tshering of Bhutan is part of a special series featuring board members of the recently founded Asian Ecotourism Network. A sustainability and resource management expert, Karma introduces us to his projects and research in Bhutan, how tourism affects the country’s Gross National Happiness, and how the practice of “high value, low volume” has shaped Bhutan’s tourism policy.
- Karma’s main insights from his conservation work in Bhutan;
- What responsible tourism needs to be able to succeed;
- How the Tiger Conservation Project prompted the Bhutan government to take a landscape approach to conservation;
- What the world can learn from Bhutan’s approach to destination management;
- How incentive based conservation works.
Karma, you started your career in sustainable tourism as a National Coordinator for the Tiger Conservation Project – can you describe this project and what you learned from this role?
Bhutan, though a developing country, has given top priority to the conservation of the natural environment. The Tiger Conservation Project was initiated in 1995 with the support of WWF as the country’s first species specific project. As a young conservationist, I felt privileged to be given the opportunity to be the National Coordinator for the project. Being passionate and curious to learn, this role provided the perfect platform for me to be out in the field to gain experience and insights in conservation.
To protect the tiger meant we first needed to know where exactly there were tigers in our country, since a scientific census had never been conducted. Due to the rugged terrain of the country, many of the survey techniques used in the foothills and grasslands of India and Nepal did not seem easily applicable in our country.
We had to rely on interviewing local communities as our major source of gathering data. Along with the technical assistance of a renowned tiger expert, within two years, the project made commendable progress. GIS mapping showing the presence and absence of tigers within the country was produced for the first time. Baseline surveys were established and a tiger conservation strategy for Bhutan was developed.