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Field Notes from Bhutan: Introduction

Three Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute scientists left in late November 2011 for the remote and mountainous Kingdom of Bhutan nestled in the Himalayas between India and China. The Smithsonian team includes the National Zoo’s chief veterinarian Suzan Murray, National Zoo veterinarian Jessica Siegal-Willott, and professional training programs manager Joe Kolowski from the Zoo’s Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability. Their mission is to conduct a critically needed training course in wildlife health and immobilization.
Read about their trip.

Bhutan mountain
Descent into Paro, Bhutan. Photo courtesy of Joe Kolowski.

Bhutan

An incredibly diverse array of wildlife lives in Bhutan, much of it globally threatened or endangered. The country’s dramatic topography, which swoops from snow-covered Himalayan peaks all the way down to lowland tropical rainforest, accounts for the variety of animals that call the land home. Nearly a third of the world’s cat species, including endangered snow leopards and tigers, leopards, fishing cats, and clouded leopards. Other carnivores include Himalayan black bears, gray wolves, and dholes, highly endangered wild dogs. Bhutan is also home to endangered golden langurs, Asian elephants, takins (Bhutan’s national animal), and a many other hooved animals including musk deer, blue sheep, gaur, sambar, and muntjac.

Despite its small size, Bhutan has received international praise its protection of is natural resources. To date, Bhutan has set aside an incredible 51 percent of its land area as either protected areas or biological corridors. However, as Bhutan’s relatively small human population continues to grow and expand, people are living increasingly closer to forested and protected areas, bringing them into higher levels of contact with wildlife.

Human-Wildlife Conflict

Human-wildlife conflict issues, which include wildlife eating or damaging crops or livestock and perceived threats to human life, are on the rise in Bhutan. These issues must be addressed if the country’s ambitious conservation ethic and objectives are to succeed. The Bhutanese government plans to establish a series of wildlife rescue centers throughout the country, each manned by a team of biologists and veterinarians, trained and equipped to respond effectively to wildlife rescue and conflict situations. However, right now there is only one trained wildlife veterinarian trained to provide handle these issues in the entire country.

Solving the Problem

The seven-day intensive course, held from November 30 to December 6, 2011 in Bhutan, focuses on hands-on technical training for a combination of livestock veterinarians and forest officers in Bhutan.

The program aims to train Bhutanese scientists and managers in wildlife management tools, including safe immobilization of wild animals. Scientists hope this course will help reduce the number of animals, particularly those from endangered or endemic populations, that die as a result of limited wildlife veterinary skills, and to maximize the amount of useful data collected from animals that are either dead or handled by forest officers or biologists around the country. The course will address a range of topics, from basic animal handling and restraint to introductory animal chemical immobilization techniques, drug calculations, and safety, to guidelines for animal rescue response.

Throughout their travels in this remarkable country, the SCBI team will send reports and photos as regularly as possible, updating you on their daily activities, the progress of the training course, and the challenges and successes of this unique experience.

This collaboration with the Royal Government of Bhutan has been in the planning stages for more than a year, and was made possible by a generous grant from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee with additional support from the Bhutan Foundation.

Read more about Bhutan and the context and details of this innovative new training program.