envSustainable development and protection of the environment are in the interest of everyone. Traditional reverence for nature and a strong tradition of conservation have influenced Bhutan’s environmental ethics and practices long before global concerns for the environment were raised. Bhutan’s first national park, Manas, was established as early as 1966. Today, more than 70.5 percent of the country is under forest cover, most of it in pristine condition. Protected areas cover more than 42 percent of the kingdom. Some 60 percent of plant species found in the eastern Himalayan region can be found in Bhutan. Bhutan is known to have some 300 species of medicinal plants and 46 species of rhododendrons.
As one of the major biodiversity hot spots in the world, Bhutan is home to a beautiful array of birds, butterflies, and rhododendrons. The takin, the snow leopard, the golden langur, the blue sheep, and the tiger are among Bhutan’s diverse and charismatic animals.
Although forest is one of the main natural resources, Bhutan’s development philosophy of Gross National Happiness requires that natural resources are not exploited indiscriminately. The constitution of the country requires that at least 60 percent of the total land area be maintained under forest cover for all times to come. This means that all Bhutanese are formally held responsible under the constitution to protect the environment. Natural environment has become a very important asset to Bhutan, in the field of energy and tourism.
Bhutan’s nature conservation policy aims to integrate nature conservation and economic development. This policy is guided by the Buddhist attitude that places coexistence with nature over exploitation of nature for economic gain. The conservation policy is based on the Buddhist perspective that human beings and nature not only live symbiotically and in harmony but are inseparable from each other. Thanks to this policy, Bhutan is today home to a number of endangered animals and birds, including the white-bellied heron and the black-necked crane. Additionally, the country boasts over 200 species of mammals, 770 species of birds (72 are among the most endangered species), and 5,400 species of plants. The combination of the dramatic variation in the altitude of Bhutan’s land, which rises from about 150 meters to more than 7,500 metres above sea level, and the diverse climate conditions, including heavy precipitation, contribute to Bhutan’s wealth of biodiversity.
Bhutan’s effort towards conservation of the environment is best exemplified by the fact that its forest cover has increased over the years.
To protect the virgin peaks from pollution, waste and defilement, Bhutan banned mountaineering in 2004. Buddhists believe gods and deities reside on the mountains. If they are treated with reverence, they shower the valleys with timely rainfall (or snowfall), bountiful harvest, and peace and happiness.