The United Nation’s General Assembly has proclaimed March 3 as the World Wildlife Day and on the occasion of this important day, Bhutan is joining hands across the globe to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild fauna and flora.
In particular, this year’s theme “the future of wildlife is in our hands” with elephants being the main focus of global campaign reinforces the inextricable link between wildlife, people and sustainable development. Studies have shown that species are disappearing at 50 to 100 times the natural rate of extinction. This is happening mainly because of unsustainable human activities through habitat destruction brought about by unchecked change in land use and by poaching for trading wildlife and its parts. Poaching and illegal wildlife trade has reached unprecedented levels globally and is considered almost equivalent in value to that of drugs smuggling. In just about two years from 2010-2012 more than 100,000 elephants were poached for its ivory in Africa and Asia.
Elephants have always played a crucial role in our culture, starting from the popular picture of Thuenpa Puenzhi, where elephants represents the basis of all existence and co-existence to the presentation of elephants as Lanpo Rinpoche during important occasion of national importance, all represent great significance in our culture.
Ecologically, elephants are known as gardeners of nature in the wild. Starting from seed dispersal to providing manure to the seeds from their dung, they weed and thin our vegetation in the forests. Elephants are known to tear down tree barks and shake trees where fruits dropped during this action benefits other species such as deer. Elephants also modify habitats by opening up gaps in dense forest habitats allowing proliferation of light loving species.
We are known to the world for our efforts in conservation of natural environment. For this we thank our monarchs for setting such visionary policies that have led Bhutan into this new millennium with much of our natural environment and biodiversity still in pristine state. With changing times and human perceptions it is now becoming increasingly difficult for us to maintain the status quo. Conflicts due to crop and property damage are on a increasing trend and poaching is also seen as a threat to elephant population in Bhutan. This act of greed by few individuals who resort to poaching or helping poachers for making easy money, is slowly tagging Bhutan as safe conduit for wildlife trade and even as a source of illegal wildlife products. We cannot let this happen and we must come together to prevent this. We have set aside more than 50% of our country as protected areas to conserve nature and wildlife, because of which we are globally recognized as a conservation jewel of the Eastern Himalayas.
In commemorating this important day, the Department of Forests and Park Services will launch the first ever nation-wide elephant survey to be led by our national team across the entire range of Southern Bhutan. I wish them much success.
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