Winner avatar
2020 Whitley Award
Phuntsho Thinley Bhutan Terrestrial
Stepping up patrols to preserve the endangered alpine musk deer


Lingzhi Park Range (LPR) in Jigme Dorji National Park, western Bhutan, is a treasure trove of biodiversity and scenic landscapes in the eastern Himalayas. It is the only protected reserve in the world where you can see two of Asia’s most threatened wild cats: the Royal Bengal tiger and the snow leopard. It is also home to several lesser known and threatened species, notably the alpine musk deer, red panda, and dhole.


Despite living in a sea of astounding biodiversity, most of the 700 locals residing within the park range are unaware of the importance wildlife plays in balancing the ecosystem. Specifically, the alpine musk deer is illegally hunted for its scent glands which are traded for medicinal purposes and reach a high value on the Asian black market. Currently, there is a severe shortage of rangers to tackle poaching in the park, and if hunting remains unchecked, musk deer could become locally extinct in a few years, with cascading effects on the ecological integrity of the region.


Phuntsho and the Royal Society for Protection of Nature will step up anti-poaching patrols in the LPR, providing SMART training to all park staff and to 50 local leaders, increasing manpower and community participation. He will engage residents in the conservation significance of musk deer and conduct wildlife monitoring using camera traps to inform their next steps. By adopting a multi-faceted approach, Phuntsho will increase knowledge and awareness about this endangered species and put boots on the ground to drastically reduce poaching.

Phuntsho and his team will:

  • Train all park staff and a quarter of residents living in the Lingzhi Park Range in patrolling and monitoring to reduce poaching by 50%
  • Educate communities on the importance of musk deer within this ecosystem and engage people with conservation
  • Collect ecological data on musk deer including distribution, abundance and sex ratio to inform conservation action

top facts:

  • An estimated 100 alpine musk deer are killed in Bhutan each year
  • There is an urgent need for greater patrolling with just 16 park staff covering 74,500 ha of the park!
  • Musk deer are poached for their scent glands which are worth more than gold in Asia

 “One thing that sets this project apart is that it bridges ecology and communities, engaging locals in surveys and anti-poaching patrols.” – Phuntsho Thinley

Follow Phuntsho on social media @PhuntshoThinle1, and view more photos of his work here.

Film credits: Discovery Access, Jigme Dorji National Park, Mr. Leki, Pogo, Rory Malcolm, WWF