Poems and paintings of the Princess of Snow

March 18, 2010

Karma Wangchuk in mountains of Bhutan, a keen conservationist, teacher, poet and artist.

Karma Wangchuk from Bhutan, the tiny Himalayan “Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon” sent me some beautiful paintings and poems about snow leopards.

Karma teaches English at the College of Education in Paro, one of Bhutan’s main towns. He’s a keen nature lover and loves cooking, trekking, travelling, drama, dance, gardening and music. He has contributed paintings for the book “The Mammals of Bhutan.”

I was really impressed with Karma’s enthusiasm for his country’s environment and the endangered snow leopards there. As a teacher I’m sure he’ll be able to have a powerful influence over the way his country’s younger generation respond to wildlife like snow leopards in the coming years.

Karma’s interest in snow leopards was inspired by George Schaller’s very first pictures of snow leopard in the wild in the National Geographic magazine and like many of us, reading that wonderful book by Peter Matthiessen “The Snow Leopard”.

Karma's beautiful painting of a snow leopard. He travelled to India many times to see snow leopards in a Zoo there to do this lovely work.

As he’s never seen a snow leopard in the wild in Bhutan (neither have most people), Karma went all the way to a zoo in northern India, eight times, to see the snow leopard he’s painted in these lovely works. True dedication.

Bhutan (and the world) needs people like Karma!

The Emblem of Bhutan, tiny kingdom in the Himalayas and home to snow leopards

Karma’s Poems
I am a leopard of the snow
When the summer is high my spots glow.
Beware! It is a fatal force.
I am as silent as spirit
And as swift as the wind,
I am ever watching you
Though you do not see me,
You try to trace me
But I cannot be,
I live a lofty life
Where the snow meet the space
And where cold is second death.
I am the leopard of the snow
And when you steal my glow
You humans!
It will perhaps be my last glow.


Higher! Higher still
Than the tricky towering peaks,
Challenging the prowess
Of this awe-inspiring denizen;
In the land of Yeti,
With its jagged rocks
And abyss of death.
Vast, virgin snow
Numbly awaiting gloom
In its unseen clutch.
But the spirit sneaks up undeterred,
Nonchalant stare, shunning vertigo,
Humbling every pass and peak.

Rejoice in this feline face!
Pass the tidings of its regal grace!
Always there and always aware,
Princess of snow,
Princess less known
To this dreary world of restless souls.

Snow leopards and “gross national happiness”

June 10, 2009
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.

New conservation area for snow leopards in Bhutan

December 17, 2008
Bhutanese kids

Bhutanese kids. Photo by Sibylle.

Today the Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley inaugurated the second largest protected area in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Called Wangchuck Centenary Park (WCP) it is named after the ruling monarchy whose conservation vision made it possible. Covering about 3,736 km sq of the north-central region of the country this new park connects small fragmented pieces of previous parks.

When I was travelling in Bhutan last year I saw some of these beautiful areas but noticed that the villagers were struggling to build sustainable livelihoods. That’s now also been addressed with the new park expected to support local communities through community tourism and home-stays for tourist accommodation.

The park area is host to endangered mammals such as snow leopards and Himalayan black bear which now range across large linked areas of their habitat, areas that are big enough to support prey species needed by snow leopards to survice.

Bhutan currently has an active snow leopard conservation project that is confirming population numbers and range for the animal as well as collecting DNA samples for analysis. See some photographs.