Mapping the small mammals

A five-day training course for field forestry officials in Lobesa to address lack of data

Although Bhutan has nearly 200 species of mammals, there is no ecological information on their status – population, distribution and threats, especially for small mammals. Small mammals consist of bats and rodents, which form the most diverse order of mammals.

To address the absence of data, the forestry department, together with various international environment conservation agencies, is conducting a five-day training course for field forestry officials in Lobesa.“Small mammals are very important, because they form the basis of the food chain,” said chief forestry officer (CFO), Dr Sonam Wangyel Wang. “They are also more responsive to environmental changes,” added the CFO, “which made them especially vulnerable to extinction.”

“We’ve been more concerned with bigger mammals, perhaps, because they’re easily visible,” said nature conservation division’s (NCD) Sonam Choden on animal conservation policies in Bhutan. “What we don’t realise is small mammals are equally important,” she said. “They play a very important ecological role.”

The NCD officer pointed out that bats, which make up 33 percent of mammal species in Bhutan, have an important role in the environment as seed dispersers and pollinators. Bats also consume several insect species that can destroy local crops.

Currently, they are 65 species of bats recorded in Bhutan, of which nine species are fruit bats and 56 are micro-bats. Bhutanese bats are found mostly in the subtropical and temperate areas of the country.

There are 40 species of rodents, constituting 20 percent of mammals, recorded in Bhutan. Rodents are rats and mice, porcupines, squirrels and voles.

Field officers are being trained in techniques, such as observing traces of small mammals, to collect information that will form a comprehensive database on small mammals in Bhutan. The field officers will also be trained to trap small mammals for recording data. Not all the animals will be released back into the environment. “They’ll be the forefront of this project,” said Dr Sonam.

“Unless we know what species we have, we’ll never know which of them are potentially threatened,” said CFO Dr Sonam. “Or even when we’ve already lost them.” On whether any of the small mammal species in Bhutan were currently threatened with extinction, the CFO said, “We can’t answer this question, since we don’t know even know what we have.”

Deforestation, use of chemical fertilisers, urbanisation and industrial activities were some of the contemporary threats faced by Bhutanese small mammals, said the CFO.

The training is being provided and funded by the South Asian branches of Chiroptera conservation and information network and Rodentia, Insectivora and Scandentia conservation.

By Gyalsten K Dorji
Source: Kuenselonline

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