The Kingdom Of Bhutan
Jennifer Scarlott writes about her daughter Julia’s study abroad programme in the peaceful, nature-loving country of Bhutan.
Photo: Dezidor/Public Domain.
Guess what! My daughter, Julia, about whom I sometimes write to you, is in her junior year in college now, but she did not spend the first semester at her usual school in Massachusetts here in the U.S. She studied abroad, not too far from India, in the kingdom of Bhutan!
Julia, whose academic focus is environmental studies, was with an American study abroad programme called the School for Field Studies. Bhutan is an amazing country in which to study nature, biodiversity, environment and science because it is one of the most unspoiled countries in the world. It still has about 70 per cent of its forest cover, compared to the U.S., with 34 per cent, and India, with 23 per cent. As you Cub kids know so well, India, despite its vast human population, retains rich wilderness and biodiversity.
Julia and her fellow students lived at an environmental institute in the central valley of Bumthang. In addition to lots of classroom learning, they went on treks and camping trips, and enjoyed Bhutan’s amazing geography, from sub-tropical plains to Himalayan peaks. Julia wrote a blog about her experiences in Bhutan, and posted many beautiful photos.
Through her blog, I’ve learned that Bhutan is home to the tiger, the one-horned rhino, the clouded leopard, the Tibetan wolf, the snow leopard, and many other species. In fact, the tiny country is one of the world’s 10 biodiversity hotspots – scientists have catalogued 699 bird species and expect that up to 770 will eventually be found.
Bet you didn’t know that Bhutan’s national animal is the takin! The takin, also called the cattle chamois or gnu goat, is a goat-antelope found in the eastern Himalaya. The takin is related to the muskox, though it has a closer relationship to sheep. It has a stocky body with a deep chest, large, two-toed hooves, a big head with a prominently arched nose, and stout horns. Its long, shaggy coat is light in colour, but the males have dark faces. Takins, of course, are herbivores, feeding on grasses, leaves, bamboo shoots, and flowers. The only confirmed predator of the takin is the snow leopard (and humans).
Julia and her classmates studied the biodiversity around the institute where they lived and attended class. The institute is at 10,000 feet (3,048 m.), and surrounded by blue pine forest and Himalayan peaks. They and their professor set up seven camera traps on wildlife trails around the campus, and even a couple around the buildings. They captured images of remarkable animals, including porcupines, foxes, Asiatic golden cats, leopard cats, pikas, wild boar, pheasants, two Asiatic black bears, and even a red panda! The camera captured the red panda during the day, which is surprising, since they’re known to be nocturnal.
For her research project at the end of the semester, Julia travelled to the Tang Valley to study ‘community forests’ and interview Bhutanese people who make careful use of the forests while ensuring that they remain as beautiful and untouched as possible. As I write to you in mid-December, Julia’s study abroad programme has ended and she is visiting with dear friends in Mumbai. In a few weeks, she’ll come home to New York with a deep appreciation of a tiny Buddhist country that is trying hard to preserve its peaceful way of life and its natural bounty. I suspect she’ll find her way back to Bhutan one day! Her love affair with wild India is ongoing.
Author: Jennifer Scarlott, First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXVI, NO. 1, January 2016.