Chhimi Dema

Highlanders from Lunana gewog in Gasa can no longer allow their ponies to graze freely in Phobjikha and Gangtey gewogs of Wangduephodrang.

Local leaders of the three gewogs met in May this year to discuss the problems caused by ponies belonging to Lunaps. The ponies are kept in lower valleys in winter considering the cold weather and inaccessibility to Lunana.

The ponies, without anyone to look after or take care, caused lots of problems in Gangtey and Phobjikha.

In recent times, villagers of Phobjikha and Gangtey lost their crops and fodder to the free-roaming ponies.

Residents of the two gewogs said the ponies dent vehicles with their hoofs, break fences, bite calves and sheep, and block roads.

Gantey gup Kinley Gyeltshen said they do not know the owners of the ponies and cannot get repayment for the damages.

With issues of free-roaming dogs in the gewog, feeble ponies become prey of the packs. Wild animals often hunt ponies, leaving the carcasses.

However, the main concern is the loss of grazing lands in the villages.

Gup Kinley Gyeltshen explained ponies tend to rip the grasses during grazing and this could threaten the growth of grasses. “People worry that their animals may not have grasses to gaze in coming years if the ponies continued to come in strings.”

Lunaps have driven their ponies to Lunana from Phobjikha and Gangtey gewogs in June this year.

Meanwhile, the local leaders, during the meeting, also agreed to keep their animals in their gewogs henceforth.

“We discussed that Gangtey and Phobjikha will not allow ponies to graze in the gewogs. Undertakings were signed with the pony owners and local leaders,” Kinley Gyeltshen said.

He added that the ponies from other gewogs would be under their custody.

Lunana Gup, Kaka, said that Lunaps, in the winters, do not have a place to keep the animal.

He said as discussed with the Gangtey and Phobjikha gewog administrations, people were informed to get their ponies from the gewogs.

When asked where the ponies will be kept this winter, Gup Kaka said that the administration is looking for other alternatives.

“An option is to pay fees to the gewog to keep our animals,” he said.

  The ponies are used to take rations before Lunana becomes inaccessible in the winter months.

There are about 500 ponies in the gewog. Some ponies are taken to Goenshari as well.

“It is not our intention to encroach on their gazing areas,” Gup Kaka said. 

 Gup Kinley Gyeltshen said that agencies such as the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority and the agriculture ministry should monitor the transportation of the animals.

“At times, the regulations are just on paper,” he said.  “Proper monitoring would be beneficial to us.”

Currently, ponies from Matalungchu village in Thoedtsho, Wangdue are seen in Gangtey and Phojikha.

With the ongoing rice cultivation, Thoedtsho gewog was given until August to keep ponies in the two gewogs.