Bhutan joins in the World Wildlife Day celebrations

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This year the World Wildlife Day was celebrated with the theme “The future of wildlife is in our hands” with African and Asian elephants being the focus

Alka Katwal from Thimphu

Bhutan joined hands across the globe to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild fauna and flora on the UN World Wildlife Day on 3 March.

On 20 December 2013, at its 68th session, the United Nations General Assembly decided to proclaim 3 March, as UN World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants.

This year the World Wildlife Day was celebrated with the theme “The future of wildlife is in our hands” with African and Asian elephants being the main focus of the day under the theme “The future of elephants is in our hands”.

“This year’s theme “the future of wildlife is in our hands” with elephants being the 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 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,” said Minister of Agriculture and Forests, Yeshey Dorji.

Some of the biggest threats to wildlife are habitat loss as well as overgrazing, farming and development. Elephants, pangolins, rhinoceros, sharks, tigers and precious tree species are among the most critically poached and trafficked species across the world.

About 100,000 elephants were estimated to be slaughtered for their ivory within the year 2010 to 2012.

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said that elephants have always played a crucial role in Bhutanese culture, starting from the popular picture of Thuenpa Puenzhi, where elephants represent the basis of all existence and co-existence to the presentation of elephants as Lanpo Rinpoche during important occasions of national importance.

“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,” he said.

However, Lyonpo said with changing times and human perceptions it is now becoming increasingly difficult for Bhutan to maintain the status quo. Conflicts due to crop and property damage are on the rise and poaching is also seen as a threat to elephant population in Bhutan.

“This act of greed by a few individuals who resort to poaching or helping poachers to make 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,” Lyonpo said.

In commemorating the World Wildlife Day, the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFS) launched the first ever nation-wide elephant survey to be led by a national team across the entire range of Southern Bhutan.