Common sense and the tiger

In February 2001, the ridgelines of central Bhutan were covered with a light dusting of snow. At the time, Pralad Yonzon, one of Southasia's top field biologists, was in professional exile from his home country, Nepal, and had been prowling these hills as a consultant to the Thimphu government. Consultant is a word that he uses for himself only sparingly and with clear distaste. 'You have to understand,' he says, 'consultants wear three-piece suits, carry laptops, are jet-setters – half of their report is already finished before they leave home. I don't do that. All of my data came from the field. Everybody in Thimphu would be happy when I would go off for three months and never show my face.' He was the type of consultant – at the time, researching and writing a conservation plan for Bhutan's central Thrumshingla National Park – who would pack his rucksack full of essentials and head out, roughing it out for months at a time.

And so it was that Yonzon found himself cresting the snowy saddle of a ridge that February, and staring at the unmistakeable tracks – pugmarks – of a royal Bengal tiger. Previously, Yonzon had worked as a field biologist with the Smithsonian Tiger Project in Nepal's Chitwan National Park for five years, in addition to having been the director of the King Mahendra Trust, a semi-government body overseeing conservation efforts in Nepal. As such, he was given to trusting his own wildlife identification. As he looked at the pugmarks, there was only one problem: the ridgeline that he was standing on was at an altitude of more than 4000 metres – 4110 m, he later ascertained.

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Himal Southasian