Bhutan is ranked among the top 10 percent of the countries with the highest species density in the world. We take environment and biodiversity conservation seriously, so much so that our Constitution requires us to maintain at least 60 percent of our land under forest cover at all times to come. And, environmental conservation is one of the four pillars of Bhutan’s overarching development philosophy of Gross National Happiness.
But environment and wildlife conservation is increasingly becoming difficult due to loss of forests to various developmental activities. We are today among the top biodiversity hotspots, but challenges to maintain Bhutan as the last Himalayan biodiversity refugia will grow in the coming years. There is nothing very distant about this possibility.
We have been uniquely successful yet to protect our environment and wildlife because of strong leadership and political will. More than 51.44 percent of our country is under protected areas with 10 national parks, home to over 200 mammal species, 700 species of birds, 5,603 flowering plants and 470 orchids, among others.
In the region, though, wildlife conservation is already proving to be increasingly difficult due to loss of forests. Invasive species are one of the biggest challenges for native biodiversity. It leads to species loss. As development reaches our farthest hamlets, we too will confront such challenges. Population growth will add pressure on our forests and rich biodiversity. Already, our White Bellied Heron habitat is threatened from damming the rivers for hydropower projects.
There is a serious need to balance the need for economic development with the need to protect natural resources. We have Bhutan for Life funding approach to ensure that Bhutan remains economically and environmentally sustainable. Funding generated through Bhutan for Life will be used to maintain and manage the country’s parks and wildlife corridors. Will this be enough, though, to protect our environment and wildlife?
We will have to balance tradition and conversation efforts with the desire for economic development. And this will not be easy. We are already facing the challenge of land conversion, replacement of indigenous species, brown sector activities and lack of awareness, among others.
This requires us to not flinch one bit from our conservation efforts. We have done it so far, and appreciably so. We must congratulate ourselves for that. But we can do more and set an example for rest of the world.