It’s hard to imagine that a tiny, landlocked country in the Eastern Himalayas about half the size of Indiana could be rich in wildlife, but in the Kingdom of Bhutan you couldn’t be more wrong. Not only is the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” resplendent with a deep tradition of Buddhist culture, it is also a nature lover’s paradise.
This is due in no small part to Bhutan’s approach to a Gross National Happiness philosophy (rather than only using economic indicators), and being the only country in the world that has a constitutional environmental commitment to its people, including an obligation to protect at least 60 percent of the country’s forest cover.
In fact, Bhutan exemplifies the convergence of human and natural history, resulting in the following spectacular native creatures that still roam Bhutan’s five million acre network of protected areas…
Birds, Birds and more Birds
Home to one of the 10 most biodiverse regions on Earth, Bhutan is home to over 400 resident bird species, many of which are altitudinal refugees that move up and down the Himalayas depending upon the seasons. This includes over a dozen bird species that are endangered worldwide, such as the White bellied heron, Pallas Fish eagle and Blyth’s King fisher, as well as the sacred Black Crane.
Sacred Black-necked Crane
The Black Crane is so culturally sacred to the people of Bhutan that anyone found guilty of killing this endangered bird can be sentenced to life in prison. Phobjikha valley in Wangdue Phodrang and Bomdeling in Trashi Yangtse are two especially important locations of the endangered Black-necked Cranes.
Elusive Snow Leopard
The Snow Leopard is rarely seen, preferring to keep a very low profile as it lives, hides and climbs among some of the steepest and most remote mountain ranges on the planet. Nevertheless, this majestic and endangered creature has continued to decline by up to 20 percent in numbers over the last two decades across its Asian homeland. One of the leopard’s last strongholds, however, is in Bhutan, where it continues to prosper. The country’s approach to nature preservation, combined with an extremely harsh terrain, protects the snow leopard from habitat destruction and poaching activities that are more prevalent in other Asian countries.
Great Asian One-horned Rhinoceros
The greater one-horned (or Indian) rhinoceros is the largest of the three Asian rhinos, and while once populous among the Grasslands and shrublands on the southern base of the Himalayas, it was in significant decline due to habitat loss and poaching for its horn. However, according to WWF, the one-horned rhino has been dubbed more recently as a conservation success, with numbers increasing dramatically since 1975 to approximately 3000 individuals today. That said, the survival of the species in Bhutan is questionable, and it is more likely to see the rhino in neighboring Nepal.
To experience a journey among ancient monasteries, Himalayan peaks, glacial rivers and peaceable villages that reveals this mythical country’s singular beauty, check out Natural Habitat Adventures’ Bhutan and Nepal wildlife tour.
To learn more about the ongoing effort to conserve Bhutan’s vital natural ecosystems in the face of increasing modern pressures, see what the World Wildlife Fund is doing to protect this international treasure.