Nature and Wildlife
The true wilderness experience of the pristine nature and presence of rare and endangered species makes the country a trekker’s paradise, an environmentalist’s dream, and an adventurer’s destination. Bhutan was, in ancient days, also known as Menjong Yul (the land of Medicinal Herbs). Bhutan has earned an international reputation as one of the global biodiversity hotspots (Norman Myers, 1998).
There are over 5500 species, including 300 species of medicinal plants, over 50 species of rhododendrons, and 600 species of orchid.
Bhutan ranks among the top ten percent of highest species density in the world. It also owns the largest proportion of protected lands. From among 770 species of birds, 221 birds identified as globally endemic (Inskipp et al, 1999). The country is a famous home for endangered black-necked cranes (Thrung Thrung Karmo). It is whitish-gray in colour with a black head, upper neck and legs. This large bird occupies a special place in the Bhutanese paintings, songs and folklore.
The high Himalayan fauna include takin, blue sheep, musk deer, snow leopard, wolf and other Paleartic animals. A little known mythic abominable snowman or Yeti is often spotted in the high Himalayas. Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is officially dedicated to preserving the Yeti. Bhutan’s southern lands teem with Asiatic elephant, tiger, one-horned rhinoceros, wild water buffaloes, leopard, gaur, hog deer, hornbill, trogon and other mammals and birds.
Bhutanese have always cherished their natural heritage. Buddhism teaches people to respect for all forms of life. Each living being, according to Buddhism, is an aggregation of four elements: earth, water, fire and air. These elements are directly linked with nature. So, concern for environment is integrated with one’s own life and is genuine. Bhutanese belief that those who pollute heaven above (air), mountains and lakes in between, and land below would be punished by the respective deities and supernatural powers.
The government takes the environmental conservation as its core development strategy. The Constitution guarantees minimum of 60 percent of forest cover. At present, 26 percent of the land is under protected areas with four national parks and additional 9 percent of biological corridors. Because of rich biodiversity everywhere, it is not easy to distinguish between the protected areas and other lands. The Gross National Happiness (GNH) and ‘Middle Path’ approaches favour the conservation over exploitation of the natural resources.