Choki Wangmo

Phuntsho Thinley (PhD), a wildlife biologist, won the prestigious Whitley Award yesterday for his lifelong work to preserve the rare alpine musk deer.

He was among the six conservationists to be recognised this year for their achievements in nature conservation.


Phuntsho Thinley

The Whitley Awards, often referred to as Green Oscars, is awarded annually to individuals from the Global South by UK-based conservation charity the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN). The award, in the form of project funding, is worth 40,000 Pounds.

The award, which will be released to the Royal Society for Protection of Nature for musk deer conservation would be used to increase anti-poaching patrols and monitoring, to reduce illegal incidents by 50 percent by training all park staff in the Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP).

The park has only 16 staff patrolling 74,500 ha of the area.

Although musk deer is a protected species under the Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan, it is targeted by poachers for musk pod. Around a 100 deer is killed in Bhutan each year.

Musk pod is worth more than gold on the international black market for its perceived pharmaceutical properties.

JDNP is a habitat of the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger overlapping with snow leopard. About 700 people live in the area, depending on yaks and collection of medicinal plants. The Alpine musk deer forms an integral part of the food chain and its loss is expected to have a catastrophic effect on the area’s ecological balance.

Phuntsho Thinley said that he was humbled and it was an opportunity for him to give back to nature. “Bhutan has developed sound environmental policies which are globally acknowledged, and I intend to uphold this unique environmental stewardship and pass it on to future generations.”

He said that the award was a testament to Bhutan’s exemplary efforts towards nature conservation. “It is a tribute to our strong conservation policy and strong political will to preserve nature under the benevolent guidance of our visionary monarchs.”

Since its establishment 27 years ago, WFN has given 17million Pounds to more than 200 conservation leaders in over 80 countries. This year, WFN received 112 applications.

The ceremony in London for the winners was postponed due to the pandemic. However, the recipients will be invited to attend a ceremony and related events in London later this year.