Snow leopards and “gross national happiness”

Bhutanese King wearing his traditional yellow robe. Photo by Sibylle

Bhutanese King wearing his traditional yellow robe. Photo by Sibylle

Bhutan is the tiny Himalayan kingdom east of Nepal and south of China, that invented the idea of “gross national happiness” being as important as “gross national product. With a population of  only 600,000 (mainly Buddhists), the country’s mountains are excellent habitat for the endangered snow leopard.

I visited Bhutan recently and spoke to many local people who knew about snow leopards but who’d never seen one and didn’t know anyone who had. The current young King is very pro-environment. Projects were visible everywhere during my visit, like school kids doing community work cleaning up litter every Saturday morning in the main towns and a town in the hills being converted to solar energy because the endangered Black cranes were killing themselves on the electricity lines each season as they came to feed.

Map of Bhutan. Source Wikipedia

Map of Bhutan. Source Wikipedia

There are probably only about 100-200 snow leopards left in the wild in Bhutan and WWF is working with Bhutan government agencies on snow leopard conservation. So far they’ve set up a payment scheme for livestock killed by snow leopard in order to stop retribution killing, taught local staff conservation practices and set up an antipoaching squad. Let’s hope this work leads to more “gross national happiness” for Bhutanese people and the snow leopards sharing their magnificent mountains.

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