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AFC Flag Expedition #4:
The Flora & Fauna of Bhutan - An Artist's Journey through the Land of the Thunderdragon
Expedition Artist: Pollyanna Pickering
Purpose: To highlight the natural history of Bhutan, and to stress the importance of conserving the ecology of the region.
Location: Bhutan
Scheduled For: March 28 - April 29, 2007
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Bhutan is known to its inhabitants as ‘The land of the Thunder dragon'. Located in the Himalayas, bordered by Tibet, Nepal and India virtually the entire country is mountainous. Thanks to its remoteness, political isolationism, small population, and difficult terrain, Bhutan has emerged into the 20th century with the majority of its forested lands and unique ecosystem intact. Now, with an increasing population, improved roads, and limited farming land, a major effort is needed to protect this virtually unspoilt mountain kingdom.

Bhutan jealously guards its lifestyle and ancient traditions. To the best of our knowledge, Pollyanna would be the first western artist to comprehensively document the wildlife and habitat in a series of paintings

A total of 26% of the country is within protected areas – either wildlife sanctuaries or national parks, providing habitat for the many endangered species found in Bhutan. Large areas remain virtually unexplored. Even the protected areas have not yet been fully studied, and the indigenous species not as yet been comprehensively catalogued.
In addition to visiting the Royal Manas National Park, the Jigme Dorji National Park, and the Black Mountain National park, Pollyanna would aim to travel to the Sakteng Wildife Sanctuary. This reserve is unique, because it is the only sanctuary in the world created specifically to protect the habitat of the yeti! The Bhutanese name for the yeti is ‘Migoi' and theese creatures are widely believed to exist throughout the northern part of the country.

Many village people in the region have stories of their sightings and meetings with Migoi. The sanctuary which has been formally set aside to protect the Migoi enviroment is also home to less mythical wildlife, including snow leopards, red pandas and black-necked cranes which may prove somewhat easier to sketch!

The Blue Poppy, Bhutan's national flower can also be found in this region. A monocarpic plant, it blooms only once before producing seeds and dying. Until a British botanist confirmed its existence in 1933, the blue poppy was also widely believed to be mythical - just like the yeti…

Ecological Significance of Bhutan
Because of the unique variety of plants and animals found within Bhutan, ecologists consider this eastern Himalayan kingdom to be an area critically important to global efforts to preserve biological diversity. The most remote of the Himalayn countries, it is the least touched by modernity.

Bhutan is included in Conservation International's list of 19 Global Hotspots for conservation of biodiversity. This ‘hotspot' list identifies high biodiversity ecosystems under the greatest threat to destruction as well as wilderness ecosystems which remain virtually intact. These priority hotspots occupy less that 2% of the earth's surface between them, but contain more than 50% of earth's terrestrial biodiversity, and house almost 75% of the world's most endangered plant and animal species.

Bhutan is home to 165 species of mammals, many of which are extremely threatened. Tigers can be found throughout Bhutan, although the population is mostly concentrated in and around Royal Manas National Park. Governmental conservation measures, coupled with the protected and almost inaccessible habitat provide sufficient areas to sustain viable breeding populations of several other species of cat, including the Asiatic golden cat, fishing cat, clouded leopard, and marbled cat. The snow leopard can be found in high altitude areas.

The Himalayan black bear, and sloth bear can be found in Bhutan, as can the red panda, a species Pollyanna has previously painted following her expeditions to China. Other large mammals include the Sambar deer, musk deer, wolf, yak, water buffalo, and the greater one-horned rhino. So far 675 species of birds have been recorded in Bhutan, reflecting the country's wide range of ecological environments. It is especially famous for it's wintering populations of the vulnerable black-necked cranes. The Ibisbill a high-altitude wader is unique to the region.

All the animals in Bhutan are protected by the Buddhist ethic which prohibits killing. As a further protection the 1995 forest and nature Conservation act defines several species as totally protected, including the Asian elephant, clouded leopard, leopard cat and red panda. Bhutan has also developed an Integrated Conservation and Development programme with assistance from the WWF to allow people living within a protected area to farm, graze animals, and collect firewood in harmony with protection management.

The main threats to the environment come from poaching and logging. Many of the endangered species in Bhutan are sought after for body parts which have supposed medicinal or other valuable properties. The Bhutan Forestry services division operates an anti-poaching programme, which encompasses endangered plants animals and trees.

Wood is used as fuel in rural areas, and accounts for 80% of Bhutan's energy consumption, which is one of the highest in the world. There are ongoing efforts to develop alternative fuel sources, and to adopt practises which will ensure a sustainable supply of firewood. 72% of the Bhutan currently remains forested. An astonishing array of plantlife grows here – over 5,000 species have so far been catalogued, including 300 species of medicinal plant, and more than 600 species of orchid.
 

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