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Asia
9 Dec 2016

BirdLife Partnership stretches its wings to Bhutan

Dochula Pass, Bhutan. © Göran Höglund
Dochula Pass, Bhutan. © Göran Höglund
By Rosa Gleave

BirdLife International, the world's largest conservation Partnership, has taken a new Partner under its wing: the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) in the fascinating and richly biodiverse nation of Bhutan.

Known in the local language as Druk Yul (meaning ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’), this diminutive country, nestled in the mountains which separate China and India, is famous for its fortress-like monasteries, ancient traditions and dramatic landscape. Bhutan is deeply protective of its natural heritage: long-standing traditions protect the landscape, where the constitution demands that a minimum of 60% of the land must remain forested for all future generations; this currently stands at over 70%.

Thanks to its forest cover, it is the world's only carbon negative country - meaning its forests absorb more carbon dioxide per year than its pollutants emit. Nonetheless, despite this Bhutan is still home to some globally-threatened species, and RSPN performs vital work to protect them.

Established in 1987, RSPN in Bhutan becomes the 122nd BirdLife Partner organisation. As the largest conservation NGO in Bhutan, it dedicates itself to pioneering biodiversity safeguards, the environment and sustainable development. Boasting strong credibility and enjoying popularity and recognition, both locally and across borders, RSPN were awarded the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Award in 2010 for its conservation work and impacts in the country.

With over 600 members in a country of less than a million people, RSPN easily stands its ground across the wider BirdLife Partnership. RSPN has established field offices across the country to cover programme implementation and support its conservation, education, livelihoods and research.

RSPN was approved as a full BirdLife Partner at November’s Global Council of BirdLife International meeting in Sri Lanka. “The BirdLife Asia Partnership is excited to work closely with RSPN for nature and people across Asia.” said Prof Sarath Kotagama, Chair of BirdLife Asia Council.

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“[The Bhutanese people's] natural way of living with their environment actually contributes to conservation, however that doesn’t mean there are no threats to wildlife; that’s why BirdLife needs a Partner there” adds Dr Hazell Thompson, Director of Partnership & Regions at BirdLife International. “Welcome and well done to Bhutan.”

White-bellied Heron Ardea insignis © 2016 RSPN Bhutan

 

Bhutan is a small, landlocked country with an area of 38,394 km2 situated on the southern slopes of the Eastern Himalayas in South Asia situated between the world's two most populated countries; China to its north and India to its east, west and south. It is part of the Eastern Himalayan biodiversity hotspot.

“It was indeed a great joy for RSPN to finally become member of the BirdLife International”, said Dr Kinley Tenzin, Executive Director of RSPN. “There is much more we need to do and now I am sure RSPN is in safe hands. Time has called on all of us to come together and work together for a greater cause.”

Bhutan contains 23 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs), eight eco-regions, and a number of Important Plant Areas and wetlands, including three Ramsar Sites with a surface area of 1,226 hectares. The diverse ecosystems and eco-floristic zones have made Bhutan home to a wide array of flora and fauna, including the snow leopard Panthera uncia and Pallas' Fish-eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus.

While overall biodiversity conservation is ensured through the protected area network, species-specific conservation plans are limited to a couple of threatened species like the White-bellied Heron Ardea insignis, and Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis

RSPN is actively involved in the conservation of these species due to their significance both nationally and globally. Bhutan ranks in the top ten percent of countries with the highest species density on earth, and it has the highest fraction of land in protected areas as well as the highest proportion of forest cover of any Asian nation.  Thus, it is one of a very few countries that have an opportunity to maintain its biodiversity largely intact.

Congratulations and welcome to RSPN as the latest BirdLife family member.