Reader's Digest World Presents The Living Edens Bhutan: The Last Shangri-La
Land of the Thunder Dragon
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Subtropical and Tropical Wildlife

Subtropical and Tropical Zones

Subtropical montane forests occupy the foothills of the Himalaya. Common trees include the chestnut, oak, alder and many other species. The subtropical fauna is predominantly Indian in composition. For example, this zone, like much of India, has chital deer, tigers, water buffalos, hog deer and elephants. Below the subtropical is the tropical, which extends up to 4,500 feet in Bhutan. The canopy is composed of many deciduous and evergreen hardwoods, including bauhinia and teak, although sal is the major species.

Conservation in Bhutan

With two thirds of the country under original forest cover, the Royal Government's commitment to conservation and sustainable development, and the Buddhist's population's deeply ingrained respect for nature, Bhutan is in many ways an ideal model for conservation. In 1993, the Royal Government extended its protected area system to cover 22 percent of four national parks, four wildlife sanctuaries, one strict nature reserve that allows no human presence, and several smaller conservation areas.

The conservation showpiece of Bhutan, Royal Manas National Park, is the oldest protected area in the country. It covers 463 square kilometers (290 miles) along the southern border adjacent to the Manas Tiger Reserve in India, and contains more significant species than any other area in the country. Adjoining Royal Manas to the north is the Black Mountains National Park. Located between the subtropical jungles of the south and the alpine-tundra habitats of the north, this park constitutes the largest and richest temperate forest reserve in the Himalayas.

Most mid-hill areas in the Himalayan region have been cleared for cultivation: only in Bhutan are there any large blocks left to protect. Encompassing the upper watershed areas of three major rivers, the 4,200 square kilometers (2,875 mile) Jigme Dorji National Park spreads across northwestern Bhutan and protects an area vitally important to downstream communities in Bhutan, India and Bangladesh. Covering eight different vegetation zones, the ecosystem of Jigme Dorji supports a wide variety of species, many of which are extinct or near extinction in other parts of the Himalayas.

Bhutan is in the rare and possibly unique position in that it entered the so called "development" process very late. As a result, Bhutan is among the few countries in the world where environmental planning

precedes environmental degradation; where the principle of sustainability is established in government policy; where population pressure is still so moderate that it does not hinder orderly planning for sustainable development; where external debt is manageable and does not prevent planning for sustainability; and where the natural resource base is largely intact.

Beyond this planning, and crucial for its popularity and therefore successful implementation, is the central role that Buddhism continues to play in people's lives. The basic principles are to give back to nature what has been taken away and to respect all forms of life. Both Buddhist and pre-Buddhist beliefs promote a cautious attitude towards the environment. The mountains, rivers, lakes, streams, rocks and soil are believed to be the domain of spirits, so that pollution and disturbance to these sites are believed to be the cause of death and disease. In Bhutan, mountain climbing is not permitted, and the Kingdom holds the highest remaining virgin peaks in the world.

Bhutanese Farmers

Because so much of Bhutan's population remain subsistence farmers or pastoralists, there has been no split in the relationship between humans and nature. This constant interaction of the people with their natural environment has meant that they have retained an intuitive insight into eco-adaptive strategies. This has been compatible with people's livelihoods thanks to a limited population, which has put light pressure on the land and forests.

The importance of Bhutan to the world of conservation has been made clear in the commitment that foreign non-governmental and governmental bodies have invested in Bhutan. The significance of the health of the Bhutanese ecosystem to the agricultural success of India and Bangladesh has been known about for decades. Because many of the largest rivers in northeast of India and Bangladesh have their origin in Bhutan, any degradation of the forest cover that resulted in lower rainfall catchment and flash floods would be disastrous. What has been realized more recently is the ability of Bhutan's forests to sequester an enormous amount of Carbon Dioxide and recycle it into oxygen. The annual value of this metamorphosis of carbon was recently estimated at $200 million by Dasho Paljor. J. Dorji, Deputy Minister of the Environment Commission.

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