Besides others that Bhutan can offer to the world, is its pristine environment that is almost intact. Located in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is one of the ecological wonders of the world. The country straddles two biographical realms: the Pale arctic realm of the temperate Euro-Asia and the Indo-Malayan realm of the Indian sub-continent. The result is a nation rich in biodiversity with its natural forest cover largely intact. The biomes in Bhutan stretch from subtropical in the south through temperate in the central interior, to an alpine zone in the north. An animal such as tiger, elephant, one-horned rhinoceros, Asiatic water buffalo, pygmy hog, and the rate golden langur exists in the lush tropical forests of the south. The snow leopard, blue sheep, and the takin are found in the cool forests and alpine meadows of the North. There are over 200 species of animals (mammals), and more than 770 species of birds have been identified.
Bhutan’s rich flora includes 46 species of Rhododendron, and over 300 species of medicinal plants, mostly in alpine, that are used in traditional medicines. As a result, Bhutan has been declared as one of the ten global “hot-spots” for the conservation of biological diversity. Many ecologists believe that Bhutan represents the last best chance for the conservation in the Eastern Himalayas, a region considered of critical importance to the global efforts to the conservation of biological diversity.
Bhutan’s rich biological diversity is found in the national parks and sanctuaries in which clean streams and mighty waterfalls exist. Bhutan is in many ways the last Shangri-la of this planet.
The preservation of the country’s rich biological diversity can be attributed to two factors, the enlightened leadership and strong conservation ethic of the Bhutanese people. Conservation is a central tenet of Buddhism. Buddhism believes in preserving nature and giving back to the earth what one has taken. Buddhism also believes in the sanctity of life. The importance of protecting nature in all its manifestations has permeated our consciousness and has become integral to the Bhutanese way of life. The pre-Buddhist “Bon” (animism) beliefs whereby forests, mountains, lakes, rivers and the sky are the domain of spirits and desecrating them will lead to disease and suffering are very strong. Therefore, preservation of the environment, sacred and cultural heritage sites are an important and an integral part of the Bhutanese value system.
His Majesty the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck has stated that: “Throughout the centuries, the Bhutanese have treasured their natural environment and have looked upon it as the source of all life. This traditional reverence for nature has delivered us into the twentieth century with our environment still richly intact. We wish to continue living in harmony with nature and to pass on this rich heritage to our future generations.”
His Majesty the King has also ensured that the processes of economic development and environmental and cultural integrity are not mutually exclusive, but critical to the long term viability of Bhutanese development. As a result of the enlightened leadership and the strong tradition of environmental conservation and preservation, Bhutan now 51.44 percent of its land areas under protected area of management and 80.89% of the country under forest cover. While many parts of the world have suffered from alarming deforestation rates, the forest cover in Bhutan has actually increased in the last decade.