Asserting naturally that the eastern Himalayas, including the whole of Bhutan, is a biological hotspot, the World Wide Fund for nature’s Living Himalayas Initiative yesterday revealed that 211 new species were discovered between 2009 and 2014.
It is a feather in the conservation cap for the region even as we are reminded of animal, plant, bird, fish and other species of living beings being threatened for extinction. Rising temperature, change in vegetation, loss of forest and soil and all the man-made factors are increasingly pushing lives to the edge. But it is great relief that in this part of the world, we are discovering new species. A bigger relief is that experts believe that there are more to be found.
For Bhutan, contributing 15 new species to in five years is not only an achievement, but is also a reward for our conservation efforts. Already blessed with rich flora and fauna capped with strict conservation rules, we can look forward to and be assured of more discoveries. In Bhutan we live very closely with the nature, sometimes too close. Just as the WWF preparing for the launch, a man was attacked by two leopards in Trashigang. Endangered species like the Royal Bengal Tiger is finding the high Bhutanese mountains as safe haven despite the unfamiliar altitude.
But there are conditions and we cannot relax in the newfound wealth. The same Himalayan region unfortunately is also one of the most fragile ecosystems. As a young ecosystem, it is most vulnerable to climate change. Increase in temperature, floods, soil erosion and change in weather patterns can disrupt our rich biodiversity. Then there is also the growing pressure from humans and their growing consumerist drive. Illegal logging, poaching of animals and clearing of land for settlement disturb the natural balance.
In Bhutan, with wise leadership at the helm, environment conservation is at the heart of development. Our approach to development is expensive because we follow a balanced approach with environment protection a major criteria for every planned activity, small or big. But the benefits are shared by mankind. Unfortunately, no single country can mitigate climate change on its own. Collective effort is what calls for now to preserve our rich biodiversity.
The Himalayan region is also one of the poorest regions in the world and this exerts pressure on our resources. For the layman, discovering moths or spiders will not matter, as it will not bring him income or food. He will cut trees or clear land to cultivate. Therefore, governments, civil societies and thinkers should ensure collective efforts to conserve the shared natural wealth.
We are already talking about mitigating the impacts of climate change and preparing to face them, indicating that we are already late. We have not lost all. With good policies and commitment to preserve our natural heritage, we will hand over a good portion to our children.
Meanwhile, there is another good news from a non-conservation point of view. The seven new species of mosquitoes discovered were not in Bhutan.