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2024 Whitley Award
Kuenzang Dorji Bhutan Terrestrial
Living with langurs: Promoting co-existence

Bhutan, along with a small region in Western Assam, India, is the last remaining home of Gee’s Golden Langur. Although Bhutan’s constitution mandates the protection of at least 60% of forest cover, habitat loss caused by economic expansion including hydropower projects, road construction and housing development, has forced many of the country’s 2,500 golden langurs into closer contact with humans. Though traditionally viewed positively in this small landlocked country of 700,000 people, the golden langur is now seen as a crop raider by subsistence farmers.


As a Himalayan nation, Bhutan is particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Species with restricted or confined distributions are especially vulnerable to these changes. Climate variability is forcing animals into increasingly confined ecological niches, altering the cropping patterns of local communities and affecting the seasonal cycles of trees, which serve as a vital food source for langurs. Consequently, langurs have adapted their feeding behaviour, increasingly relying on crops and adjusting to agroecosystems, thereby intensifying interactions and conflict between people and primates.


Most subsistence farmers sharing the landscapes with the Gee’s Golden Langur live below the national poverty index, and so are particularly impacted by raids on crops. Traditionally, langurs were venerated by farmers as they were seen as a good omen. Increasing contact, however, has driven farmers to resort to lethal measures to attempt to control them. Langur’s growing reliance on crops has impacted both agricultural livelihoods and the wellbeing of women and children, who guard the farms. The protection of crops using deterrents such as sound-emitting tiger models is already yielding results: helping to boost income by protecting as much as 80% of farmers’ crops while freeing women and children from standing guard over the land.


Representing the Royal Society for Protection of Nature, Kuenzang will work with field foresters from the Department of Forests and Park Services to redefine the role of local people in conservation efforts in Bhutan. Much of the data on golden langur sightings come from citizen scientists using smart phones and Epicollect5, a free mobile data-gathering platform. The help of local people is invaluable, particularly in some of the areas of Bhutan that remain inaccessible due to sheer remoteness and rugged terrain. The project will also train 30 locals and forestry workers in primate survey and social research, and will provide fellowships to five local students who are keen to pursue research in primatology.

With his Whitley Award, Kuenzang and his team will:

  • Identify human-langur conflict hotspots to initiate appropriate conservation practices in affected villages
  • Roll out alternative non-lethal deterrents to keep langurs away from crops and power stations, thereby reducing human-wildlife conflict and loss of langurs to electrocution
  • Provide training to 15 female farmer groups to enable them to diversify their income via ginger, orchid and mushroom farming initiatives – all high value crops which are less palatable to foraging langurs
  • Develop a habitat management policy brief for critical langur habitat covering 6,535 km2
  • Nurture the next generation of Bhutanese primatologists

top facts:

  • Langurs have adjusted their feeding habits to forage on crops, often choosing to eat oranges, guava, maize and vegetables.
  • Local people now acknowledge that while langurs may cause some harm, the ecosystem services they provide – through seed dispersal – far outweigh the damage they cause.
  • Bhutan is the world’s first carbon-negative country; its vast forests absorb more carbon dioxide than the country emits from all activities.