The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Friday, October 1, 2010

A&M researcher sets up wildlife lab in Bhutan

By Ryan Seybold

Published: Thursday, September 30, 2010
Updated: Thursday, September 30, 2010 02:09

Jan Janecka, a Texas A&'M research associate, spent 10 days in Bhutan to set up a wildlife conservation laboratory. The developing country's leaders asked Scott Mills from the University of Montana to help provide Bhutan with the technology and methods to develop economically with minimal impact on its wildlife and ecosystems.
Bhutan is a small country located between China and India, on the eastern border of Nepal. Until recently, foreigners were not allowed entry to Bhutan. The country has therefore been isolated and undeveloped for many years. Bhutan has begun efforts to modernize; however its people do not want the environmentally harmful effects such development ordinarily produces. Much of the country's natural landscape has been left completely alone and the few urban areas have made a very small impact.
"It's an extremely fascinating country because it was completely closed off to foreigners pretty much up until the fifties. Even now, tourism is very limited," Janecka said. "It was a small, independent kingdom. [Because of this] there was very little development that had occurred there, and people had lived that way for hundreds of years. Modern technology and industrialization hasn't actually hit Bhutan, and it's only just starting to be introduced. People would live in farming communities, use their own food, almost like a subsistence lifestyle. In the past five or six years, they've started to modernize it, so they've started to build dams and get electricity. They've begun building roads and started to do more logging."
About 90 percent of the forested areas of Bhutan are still untouched and the wildlife communities are too, which is part of why it's so interesting to study, Janecka said. At this point, Bhutan has the motivation to develop technologically and economically in an environmentally friendly way. What spurred this movement was the resignation of the king of Bhutan, who actually stepped down from his position and turned
Bhutan into a democracy. It was following this event that the nation began its efforts to develop technologically.
"One of their priorities, set out by the king and also by the new government, is to protect their natural heritage. It's a really important thing for them to protect their wildlife and ecosystems, because as Buddhists, they value all life," Janecka said.
At the request of Bhutan's government, Mills put together a team of 12 researchers and scientists from all over the world, one of whom was Janecka. Mills and his team spent their time in Bhutan showing resident scientists and researchers from neighboring countries, how to track wildlife population and distribution of species via surveying, radio collars, genetic analysis and a variety of other tools.
"One of Bhutan's greatest treasures, spanning from the high Himalayas to low elevation subtropical forests, is its remarkable biodiversity," Mills said. "Bhutan's biodiversity – including its Indian elephant population - is largely intact, due to low developmental impacts and a strong commitment to conservation emerging from the culture and the leadership of their Kings; environmental integrity sits as one of the pillars of the country's ‘Gross National Happiness' philosophy. As development increases in Bhutan, with potential stressors ranging from hydropower to logging to poaching to housing developments, baseline measurements of ecological integrity - and the ability to determine risks to wildlife populations - are vital."
The high value the Bhutanese place on the preservation of their natural resources is an encouragement to wildlife and environmental conservationists because Bhutan may become the first nation to begin its foray into the global community using only clean technologies.
"I think it is amazing that the Bhutanese government is working so closely with scientists and conservation experts in planning the development of their country, and I am proud that a fellow Aggie is playing such a large role in this process," said Rachel Boswell, class of 2010 and current president of Aggies for Animal Rescue.


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