A soldier and two cordyceps collectors are recovering after they were injured during a confrontation in Lunana.
According to a press release from the agriculture ministry, a soldier from the Royal Bhutan Army sustained serious head injuries after being hit with stone by a group of people illegally collecting cordyceps in Lunana on May 12.
The soldier was medically evacuated by helicopter and is undergoing treatment. Several other soldiers on patrol who sustained minor injuries during the incident are being treated by a doctor on duty at Lunana.
A group of over three hundred people from Sephu and Dangchu villages had entered Lunana to illegally collect cordyceps. They were found by a 5-member patrol team of RBA and forest personnel on duty at Tshokina, Lunana. When the patrol team attempted to send the poachers back, some of the people began throwing rocks, causing injuries.
The illegal cordyceps collectors from Sephub and Dangchu (Wangduephodrang) were involved in a second incident with RBA and forest personnel in Lunana yesterday.
A 10-member patrol team including RBA and Forestry officials were observing the illegal cordyceps collectors who still remained in Lunana after pelting stones at RBA and forestry personnel yesterday.
Without interacting with the poachers, the team proceeded to return to camp for the evening.
On their way, the team was accosted by an overwhelming number of the poachers, who again began pelting stones. The RBA personnel fired warning shots in the air to bring the situation under control and stop the pelting. Two of the intruders were accidentally hit by stray bullets during this exchange. Both are stable and after being attended to by the military doctor, evacuated to Tshojong BHU.
In a separate incident yesterday, a forester was assaulted and badly injured by illegal collectors. When two other forestry personnel attempted to evacuate the injured forester, they were also assaulted.
Ophiocordyceps Sinensis or Yartsa goenbub is an insect- fungus highly prized in traditional Oriental medicine. It is found in high altitudes, in some of the harshest terrains in Bhutan, including Lunana.
There are strict regulations in place to prevent over-harvesting, which would lead to the extinction of the fungus. The right to collect cordyceps from a particular area is limited to those highland communities who live in the gewogs where it is found.
However, there have been many incidents of intrusions by people from outside these communities to poach cordyceps.
The patrol team has reported six separate incidents between April 21st to May 11 of poachers from Sephu and Dangchu being caught with illegal cordyceps. In the previous incidents, poachers verbally abused the patrol team and tried to intimidate them with knives.
They had been stopped and turned back with a warning.
It is a serious offence to assault uniformed personnel on duty.