Our society is changing fast with urbanisation growing by the day. Road and telecommunication networks are expanding rapidly. All these manifestations of development is good but we could at the same time be growing blind and insensitive to the many effects of change that are already beginning to show in their varied forms and intensity. While we may project ourselves as the champion of the conservation efforts in the world that is increasingly becoming indifferent to the changing climate and mass destruction of natural environment, we seem to be doing not so well in reality. Bhutan stands to lose a lot more if it cannot bring itself to face down environmental disturbances while it is riding on the boom time wind of a sort.
According to one latest conservation report, human-induced changes are threatening wildlife habitats in Bhutan. Linear infrastructure development such as expansion of road and transmission lines and improper land-use planning were found to hinder wildlife movement and disturb prime habitats of the species. But the species that is most affected is takin, Bhutan’s national animal. And they are not many of them put all together. The study warns that if infrastructure developments go unchecked, it could cause “unforeseeable risks” due to disturbances in the takin habitats. Winter habitats of takin are found to be highly vulnerable to anthropogenic pressure due to its closer proximity to human settlements. That means roads are penetrating deep inside takin habitats.
It is upon the government now to focus on maintaining the existing farm roads rather than building new ones, as the study has suggested. But will political pandering allow this to happen? More important, do we even have a choice? Cut-fill construction method is expensive and not so environment-friendly. Experts are of the view that such developments affect wildlife through physical barrier for movement and dispersal, displacement and change in habits, among others. Cost-effective and environmentally less damaging development will become increasingly challenging. The greatest risk is that Bhutan could in a few years down the line lose one of her most important and visible national symbols. According to the study, the takin population in the country is decreasing alarmingly fast.
The problem today is that development and conservation laws do not seem to dovetail well. So here is what we know we can do—review the laws and make them relevant to Bhutan’s true aspirations in the 21st century. And that means protecting our natural wealth and augmenting our economic well-being at the same time. Losing one for the other will be disastrous for the nation.