Sixteen-years ago yesterday, six forest guards of Royal Manas National Park died while returning from Manas range to the Park head quarters in Gelephu. Miscreants from across the border had ambushed by using explosive devices. Four survived the incident and continues to serve the department.

Another team from Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary met with a similar incident in December 2008. Three were killed, Late Tshewang Norbu, Late Wangchu and Late Kiran Barman while Laida Dukpa and Ranjit Mongar survived.

A ranger died from high altitude sickness, and another fell from a steep cliff while carrying out the national forest inventory in December 2015. Since the 1990’s, Bhutan has to date lost 13 rangers while 11 injured were injured in line of duty.

Recognising the role rangers play in protecting the natural resources, and to honour those who have died in the line of duty, more than 300 rangers gathered in Thimphu to celebrate the first World Ranger Day yesterday. The celebration marks Bhutan’s membership into the International Ranger Federation (IRF).

“Your service matters and I thank you for your service,” Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said to the rangers during the celebrations at the Coronation Park.

Lyonchhen said that Bhutan has 72 percent forest cover and 51 percent reserved parks and sanctuaries. He said that this ensures the good quality of the country’s flora and fauna.

Bhutan has about 5,600 species of vascular plants including 64 species of Rhododendron, 423 species of Orchids and non-vascular plants such as 411 species of ferns, 232 species of moss and 329 species of mushrooms.

“We have undiscovered treasures in our forests and rangers protect these treasures,” Lyonchhen said.

He said that Bhutan is also rich in fauna, which includes over 200 mammals including 103 tigers, 96 snow leopards, 96 species of fish, and about 770 bird species.

Lyonchhen said that fresh water and quality forests ensure the survival and abundance of the flora and fauna. “This is a gift from us to the world and possible because of the initiatives of Their Majesties, the Druk Gyalpos.”

Lyonchhen explained that rangers can be accredited as guardians of the country’s security for their service in biological corridors, sanctuaries and parks; their efforts in times of fire; and the core of their service for nation building. The prime minister also thanked the World Wildlife Fund- Bhutan for their efforts for the past 40 years and Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation in their continued efforts in protecting and conserving the forests.

Agriculture secretary Rinzin Dorji said that in Bhutan, rangers work in hostile conditions combating internal as well as external armed poachers, performing routine patrols amid harsh weather from extreme cold alpine climates of Laya-Lunana to hot and humid subtropical jungles of Manas, attending to public needs throughout the year and combating forest fires with volunteers among others.

According to Thin Green Line Foundation, over the past 12 months, 105 rangers across the world lost their lives in the line of duty. Of those killed, 42 percent were at the hands of poachers, 47 percent in work related accidents, and 11 percent by the animals they protect.

“This reflects how rangers work in very precarious conditions with their “life on the knife edge” situations,” Rinzin Dorji said.

One of the first rangers in the country, Lyonpo Chenkyap Dorji said forestry development has come a long way and rangers have a big role in the success. Being one of the first departments in the government, the forest department started from a tent in Changidaphu with few officials to one of the largest departments today with more than 1,500 rangers.

“With a lot of development, we’ve to be mindful of forest conservation as it provides critical services for Gross National Happiness,” he said.

Recognised as a civil ranger, Sonam Phuntsho, a cameraman by profession, and the recipient of prestigious Jigme Singye Wangchuck Outstanding Environment Stewardship Awards in 2010 was also awarded a certificate for his contribution.

“I’d interest in planting trees since my childhood days,” Sonam Phuntsho said. He is known to have planted more than 10,000 saplings and continues to look for barren areas to plant trees.

Ranger, by definition, is anyone employed by the government to care and protect the forests. Foresters said that acknowledging their services and efforts has boosted their morale and resolve.

“Excited, exhilarated, and enthralled because it’s a day when we are being officially recognised and appreciated for the work we do in safeguarding our natural heritage,” a forester, Ugyen Tshering said.

“We are high up in the mountain bracing frigid mountain temperature of the north, down in the South fighting hot and humid sub-tropical temperature,” he said. “But never have such of us, the Rangers been officially appreciated. This is a testimony of our hard work and hardship being noticed.”

Certificates of appreciation were also awarded to 96 foresters who have been serving for more than 30 years in the forest department.

The day also saw the launch of the Society of Bhutanese Foresters; Druk Rangers Magazine, and the Forest Information Resource Management System.

The ministry launched a forestry theme song, songs and MTV programmes on water, waste management and forest fire prevention to sensitise the public.

The event, which is observed for more than a week from July 24 to August 2 at the Coronation Park in Thimphu includes International Wetland Training, Global Tiger Day, Citizen Birder’s Programme and an exhibition that will be held through tomorrow.

World Ranger Day is observed annually on July 31 and is celebrated by the International Ranger Federation’s (IRF) member associations, the Thin Green Line Foundation, and by organisations and individuals who support and acknowledge the work of rangers worldwide.

The first World Ranger Day was observed in 2007 on the 15th anniversary of the founding of IRF. Founded in 1992, the IRF is a non-profit organisation that supports the crucial work that the world’s park rangers do in preserving natural and cultural heritage.

Tshering Palden