ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Sustainable rangeland management to protect red panda and herder livelihoods (2016-2019)


Darwin Initiative Fund, $540,000

Research Theme

Sustainable Development


Dr Joanne Millar, Professor Max Finlayson &  Dr Karma Tenzing


Merak VillageThe research project aimed to protect red panda habitat and livelihoods of yak herders in the high altitude rangelands of far eastern Bhutan. Partners include the Bhutan Departments of Livestock; Forests and Parks; World Wildlife Fund Bhutan; the Red Panda Network and Australian Landcare International.

Merak Village in Bhutan, Pic by J. Millar

The project ran for 3 years and focused on addressing severe land degradation, red panda habitat loss and herder wellbeing in the winter rangelands of Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) in remote eastern Bhutan (2,500 to 3,500m). Over-exploitation of resources and climate change are the main drivers of pasture decline, land erosion and forest fragmentation. SWS is rich in biodiversity and home to the globally threatened red panda. However, little is known about red panda status or habitat threats in this remote part of Bhutan.

Brokpa herderProject activities included fencing off several large gullies, planting native vegetation, monitoring habitat change, recording red panda populations, pasture trials, livestock management, biogas trials, vegetable production and women's enterprises. Group management and capacity building built the foundation for herders to drive the process using lessons learnt from the Landcare approach in Australia.

Brokpa herder wearing traditional deer fur clothing Pic J. Millar

To follow the progress of the project follow our blog


Millar, J. & Tenzing, K. (2021). Transforming Degraded Rangelands and Pastoralists’ Livelihoods in Eastern Bhutan. Mountain Research and Development. Vol 41. Number 4.

Letro, L., Tandin, T, Wangdi, S., Wangdi, T. Dendup, P & Millar, J. (2021) Status, distribution and conservation of red panda Ailurus Fulgens in Bhutan In Glaston, A.R., Red Panda: Biology and Conservation of the First Panda. Second edition. Academic Press. pp 463-474.

Millar J. & Tenzing, K. (2021). High altitude rangelands and pastoralism in Bhutan: using sustainable development goals to address land degradation and poverty. Poster presented at the International Rangeland and Grassland Congress (Virtual) 25-29 October 2021.

Red Panda Conservation Action Plan for Bhutan 2018-2023 pdf15MB

Darwin Initiative Main Project Half Year Report October 2016 pdf

Baseline Household Survey Report May 2017 pdf 2MB

Main project Annual Report April 2018 pdf 3MB

Project Half Year Report October 2018 pdf 1MB

Millar, J., Tenzing, K., Dorjee, T. & Wangdi, T. (2019). Darwin Initiative: Final Report. Sustainable rangeland management to protect red pands and herder livelihoods. Charles Sturt University.

Millar, J.Tenzing, K. (2019) Two steps forward, one step back: Enabling collective action to rehabilitate rangeland commons in Bhutan. Paper presented at the XVII International Association for Study of the Commons Conference Lima, Peru, July 2-5. pdf
Conference slides  pdf 2MB


Red PandaThe outcomes of this project included:

  • the restoration of eroded gullies, regeneration and zoning of critical red panda habitat, and red panda research
  • sustainable rangeland management and pasture protection.
  • alternative energy technology
  • competent communit-based landcare groups established with two women's savings groups enabling investment in small enterprises. and community education
  • project results and lessons learned from the landcare approach and red panda conservation documented and disseminated
  • restoration and protection of 150ha of red panda habitat, watershed and grazing areas for 120 herding households leading to improved rangeland management, biodiversity and livelihoods.

Full details can be found in the Final Report 2019.


Dr Joanne Millar



October 2021