A milestone for wild tigers in Bhutan originated on a couch in St. Petersburg, Russia

The author hands over anti-poaching field kits to Karma Dukpa (left), Director General, DoFPS, MoAF, Bhutan. Photo - Radhika BhagatWhat began as a quiet conversation in the lobby of a hotel during the Global Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia in November of 2010 culminated in the signing of an agreement with government of Bhutan today.  The agreement underscores the urgency in protecting wild tigers in Bhutan and is significant far beyond the signing of the document itself.

Last year, while sitting in the lobby of our hotel in St. Petersburg I noticed a delegation sitting on the sofa across from me and one particular gentleman caught my attention. 

He was expressing a good amount of dissatisfaction with the fact that the international donor community was not really coming up with any money to meet the stated goal of doubling the number of tigers in the wild by 2022. 

One comment he made really stuck with me. 

He said, "You know, the problem with the World Bank wanting to give us loans to save the tiger is that tigers don't know how to pay back loans."  I laughed and asked him to tell me more about who he was and what he did in Bhutan.

He told me that he was not really anyone important and that he ran a small NGO that speaks out on conservation issues in Bhutan and that he liked to stir things up from time to time. 

I found him to be utterly enjoyable but wasn't really sure how he fit into the delegation or who exactly he was. He went on to share some of his life stories and the challenges that Bhutan faces. His commitment to wildlife conservation and tigers in particular shone through and we passed a number of hours together between ministerial meetings. 

The dedication of the Bhutanese delegation to the summit really impressed me and the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Bhutan began making modest plans to help out with anti-poaching training for rangers patrolling the their national parks. 

Since then IFAW has shared expertise with Bhutanese colleagues from the wildlife rescue centre in Thimphu, carried out prevention of wildlife trafficking training and engaged educators in our Animal Action Education programme in ten schools in Bhutan.

We did not wait for a formal memorandum of agreement to be signed but, instead, worked together to make things happen on the ground in Bhutan. 

A tiger census is underway and early indications are that tigers may have a chance in Bhutan. And hat, in the end, is the goal. 

The purpose of this second trip to Bhutan was to sign the piece of paper that cemented our commitment to one another, IFAW and the Government of Bhutan, and to the mission of protecting tigers in the wild. 

Like in most countries, there was a fair amount of red tape in getting the agreement approved and it had to eventually work its way up to the office of the prime minister before we could sign. 

At each level, Bhutanese officials could point to the fact that IFAW was already on the ground working.  We were on the ground working because of those early conversations and promises made whilst sitting on that couch in St. Petersburg.

Oh, and that fellow who told me he liked to stir things up; he was at the signing wearing the red sash and ceremonial sword of a minister. 

He was no other than Dasho Paljor Jigme Dorji, Founder of the Royal Society for Protection of Nature in Bhutan, former Ambassador to the United Nations, former Chief Justice of the Bhutan Supreme Court and... the King of Bhutan's cousin. 

Oh, and by the way, he likes to be called Benji.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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