Choki Wangmo

Few days ago, the forest department wrote to the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) claiming that Himalayan monal, a sub-alpine pheasant species in the country have come under harm from poachers, mostly cooks and porters on trekking tours.

The exotic bird, found within a range of 3,180 to 4,775 metres above sea level was poached for its meat and was served to trekking tourists. It raised the question of species survival if the trend continues, according to the officials.

TCB then issued a circular to the Guides Association of Bhutan (GAB), stating the members of GAB should be informed about the unlawful activities.

However, some of the trekking guides said the claim was baseless. A trekking guide, Rinzin Wangchuk said that he had been trekking through different parts of the country for many years and he didn’t come across such incidents.

“Few groups or individuals might have done it but it is not right to blame the tourism industry. There is a misunderstanding,” Rinzin Wangchuk said.

Monal pheasants are brightly coloured birds. Adult male possess a long crest and are feathered with multicolored plumages throughout their body.

The females are dull in color with the upper parts covered with dark brownish-black feathers.

In Thimphu, Himalayan monals are usually found feeding nearby monasteries such as Phajoding and Chari.

Another guide said that while on tour to Phajoding, he saw construction workers in the monastery setting traps.

“Various birds are poached in that manner. Wherever there are construction or renovation works, the labourers hunt down the animals,” he said.

However, TCB Director General Dorji Dhradhul said that it was a cautionary note from the forest department and is not blaming the guides and their team.

“It is a future concern but if they are found defaulting, we will deal according to the tourism rules and regulations.”

Meanwhile, the letter from forest department stated that the act is an offence and defaulters would be dealt according to the Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1995.

Chapter three (10) of the Act states: “The hunting, fishing, taking, removing, destroying, poisoning or injuring any wildlife, or setting traps or snares are prohibited in the government reserved forests.”

Monal pheasant is one among the 23 animals listed under the ‘totally protected animals list’ in the Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1995.

The founder of Bhutan Birdlife Society, Tshering Tobgay said that in recent years, the society had observed increasing number of bird species being hunted in different parts of the country.

“Besides Himalayan monal, Kalij pheasant and Jungle fowl are the most hunted species,” he said. “It is saddening.”

Tshering Tobgay said the species were threatened by different sections of the society and the trekking guides and their teams may not be fully responsible. He said, in future, the society has plans to conduct awareness programmes on the importance of the species and hence, reduce poaching.

In IUCN red list, Himalayan monal is of least concern but Tshering Tobgay said that if poaching happens at the current rate, the species will be driven to extinction, even.

“The bird is not easily sighted in many places of the country,” he said.

The species is found in Eastern Afghanistan, Northern Pakistan, India, Southern Tibet, and Bhutan.