Bhutan may be the smallest of the 13 tiger range countries but it is fast becoming one of the conservation champions. Known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, this ancient secluded kingdom is the latest country to count its tigers. The results were announced on Global Tiger Day 2015 – revealing a population of 103 wild tigers.
Nestled in the heart of the Himalayas, Bhutan sits between two giants; India and China. Although surrounded by large and influential neighbours, the Buddhist country has successfully preserved its rich cultural heritage and ancient traditions – a factor that contributes significantly to the nation’s well-being. Bhutan is renowned for being one of the happiest nations in the world, and for good reason. In the 1970’s, the King championed a new approach to development: Gross National Happiness (GNH). The concept is that sustainable development should give equal importance to non-economic aspects of well-being. The four pillars of the Gross National Happiness index are:
- Good Governance
- Sustainable socio-economic development
- Cultural preservation
- Conservation of the natural environment
"Gross National Happiness is the bridge between the fundamental values of kindness, equality and humanity and the necessary pursuit of economic growth" - His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Fifth King of Bhutan
Dzongkha, a language belonging to the Tibetan family, is spoken by the majority of Bhutan’s 750,000 inhabitants. The Buddhist faith plays a fundamental role in the country. It is weaved throughout society, from the intricate architecture and castle fortresses (dzong) around the city to the prayer flags fluttering in the hills. Residents wear the same traditional clothing that has been worn for centuries and it is required by law that people wear the national dress when visiting schools or Government offices.
Bhutan’s isolation from the outside world until the 1960’s makes it a unique and fascinating country with many interesting facts. Bhutan...
- ... has the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, Gangkhar Puensum, at 7,570 metres (24,840 ft)
- ... was one of the last countries to introduce television, lifting the ban in 1999.
- ... is still dominated by small family farms, despite the process of modernisation.
- ... has a national dish called Emadatse – a chilli pepper and cheese stew.
- ... holds regular competitions in villages for their national sport of archery.
- ... is shrouded in mystery as priceless historic documents were lost in fires and earthquakes.
Bhutan’s position in the Himalayas provides a striking diversity in landscape; from the steep, rugged mountains and deep valleys in the North to sub-tropical forest and bamboo jungles in the South. 72% of Bhutan is dense, virgin forest. The country has long prioritised conservation of the environment and as a result has an outstanding array of wildlife and ecosystems. It is home to over 200 mammal species, 700 bird species and 5,600 plant species!
BHUTAN: TIGERS & TX2
Bhutan has just completed its first ever wild tiger survey and announced the results on Global Tiger Day 2015. The country has the highest altitude tigers in the world, at over 4000 metres. Counting these tigers was no easy task – biologists had to trek through a variety of dense forest and steep terrain to set camera traps.
As part of the survey, community perceptions of tigers and their cultural value were also documented.
Tigers are often revered in Bhutan, not only for their ecological significance in keeping forests healthy, but also for their place in Bhutanese spiritual ethos. Tigers are the only living member of the four protective animals of Buddhism; Sing (mythical snow lion), Chung (mythical Garuda), Druk (mythical dragon) and Tag (tiger).
Although Bhutan faces many challenges in the coming years as the country continues to develop, the strong emphasis and ethos of the people in conserving their natural heritage gives hope that tigers will continue to thrive here in the future.
"I am proud - we can now confidently tell the world that Bhutan is one of the priority areas for the long term survival of tigers" - Sangay Dorji, Head of Carnivore Program at the Wildlife Conservation Division Department of Forests and Park Services