Use of the bird’s feathers as fletches on arrows banned to save the endangered species

Wildlife: Archery may be the national sport of the country but when it comes to the strict conservation policy of the government, the national game has to compromise.

The Bhutan indigenous games and sports association (BIGSA) banned the use of feathers Monal pheasants as fletches  of traditional arrows.

The Himalayan Monal is an endangered species found only in the Himalayan regions like Nepal, Pakistan, Tibet, Kashmir and Bhutan.  The species is listed under schedule I, section 22 (a) of the Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1995 of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

According to this act, “all species are to be totally protected, whether or not in a government reserved forests and may not be killed, injured or collected in any form.”

The wildlife conservation division, under the ministry of agriculture and forests, and BIGSA agreed to ban the use of arrows with Monal pheasant feathers during any tournaments.

BIGSA president, the former agriculture minister, Kinzang Dorji, said that the association tried to ban the use of the Monal-feathered arrows three years ago.  However, they failed to implement the ban, since many traditional archers dissented over the ban.

Last year in November, agriculture and forests ministry circulated a notice, informing the general public that the use of Monal-feathered arrows would be allowed for the last time during the Druk Wangyal national archery tournament, after a meeting with BIGSA and ministry officials.

Considering the practical issues of many archers owning several pairs of arrows made from the Monal feathers, the two organisations agreed that the team captains would prepare a detailed inventory of the existing arrows, and the list to be submitted to the two organisations.  But the inventory has not been submitted to the authorities yet.

Meanwhile, the chief of wildlife conservation division, Sonam Wangchuk, said that the ministry would be looking into the illegal sale of the feathered arrows in the market. “Officials from the forest protection and surveillance unit will monitor the sellers,” he said. “There are also informants who will report to us if they see any such activities in their locality.” Sonam Wangchuk added that individuals or shops found in possession of the feather as fletches would be strictly penalised in accordance with the provision of the act, which is currently under revision.

Archers have mixed reactions to the decision.  Phurba, an archer, said that the ban was a good initiative for the protection of the bird. “People kill those birds just for show,” he said. “For me even a plastic-fletched arrow delivers the same accuracy as the Monal one.”

Another traditional archer, Sonam, said that there was a big difference between a plastic-fletched arrow and a Monal-feathered arrow.  According to Sonam, the plastic-feathered arrow loses its rigidity in the sun and does not deliver accuracy.   He added that he made his own arrows from the feathers that he buys from people of Laya and Lingshi. “I personally haven’t seen the bird till date,” he said.

Some people also believe that Monal pheasant meat has medicinal value, but Sonam Wangchuk disagrees. “Scientifically, there’s no such benefit from the meat,” he said.  He added that people come up with excuses to kill the bird for its feathers.

A pair of traditional Monal pheasant fletched arrow costs between Nu 2,500 to Nu 3,000.

By Younten Tshedup