Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bhutan's Natural Treasures

A few days back, a friend declared in apparent exasperation; “To hell with everything - I am so disgusted at the stupidity of the Bhutanese people - let them be ruled by a government they truly deserve”.

As opposed to the above, another friend was blasé. She shrugged off the whole thing by saying; “I don’t care whether DPT or the PDP wins the elections. For me it will not make an iota of difference - I will still continue to get my Nu.30,000.00 salary at the end of each month”.

These are two extreme views: one of helpless frustration and the other of nonchalance. In my view none of these two views are helpful. In fact, they are downright dangerous.

A recent conversation I had with another friend clearly demonstrates that the urban Bhutanese population - the media tended and the Internet savvy - is losing that essential quality of processing and analyzing information. I think there has to be something terribly wrong with a brain that absorbs information without scrutiny. Or, simply, the urban Bhutanese have stopped caring. But care we must, because this country is worth caring for! Look at the following photographs.

The first photograph shows a school of Golden Mahseer (Tor putitora). The estuary of this small stream (located in North-Western part of Bhutan) is packed with these fish - I counted 42 of them - until I lost count. This is an extremely rare sight that you are unlikely to see anywhere else in the world. The reason is that, everywhere else in the world, this fish is going extinct. The IUCN has classified this fish species as “Endangered”.

The Mahseers grow into enormous size. My personal record is 27 Kgs. which I caught in Sheytekharey, Kalikhola. My second biggest catch was landed at the junction of Dakphai/Mangdechu rivers in Zhemgang. It weighed in at an impressive 23 Kgs.

The second picture below shows a group of fresh water otters known as Eurasian Otters (Lutra lutra). In Bhutanese they are called “Saam”. The IUCN lists them as “Near Threatened”. This photo is also unique in the sense that it is a rare sight to see so many otters congregated together. This hunting group comprised of seventeen otters. The otters were photographed at the same exact spot where the Mahseers (above) were frolicking. These otters feed primarily on fish - including other vertebrates.

The third photo shows a forest stand of Eastern Himalayan Silver Fir (Abies densa). I am told that this forest - located somewhere in the North-Central part of the country - is among the world’s oldest Fir forests in existence. It is a national treasure we must do everything to protect and preserve - for humanity and the succeeding generations of Bhutanese.

NOTE:   The photo of the Mahseer was shot from a distance of about 500 Mtrs. across the river.
               Thus the fish under the water surface look rather small. The truth is these fish are all over
               5-6 Kgs. each.


  1. I admire you because you bring such stuffs to us without any political angles/allusions that you would otherwise like us to believe. Barring ur pretentious and holier-than-thou attitude on our politics I admire and want to emulate you. I only wish you would spend your time on what u r good at than trying to be an expert on what u r not (politics).
    A Fan of urs (strictly confined to your photography skills, lest you get carried away) :)

  2. Dear Anon,
    If you view my writings with a tainted view, I cannot help it. Look at it objectively and you will find that I am unbiased in my opinion. I write it as I see it and I have no qualms about putting my name to it. If you wish to offer and opposing view, write it out and I will see if I see any point to your views. Politics is not my subject and I do not write on it - if you think I do, it is your lack of understanding of what I write. However, for now, I am focused on the issue of some people who are vying for a seat in our Parliament but who have proven that they are deserters and not worthy of the consideration of the people of Bhutan. I am writing on the possible implications of what these people have done - that is not political writing.

  3. Thank you for your mention of Mahseer. With every one of our rivers dammed they have a very uncertain future in Bhutan now. All the lip-service to GNH and its pillar of environmental conservation seem hogwash when the hydro dollars are dangling in front of our decision-makers. Even places near our capital are chock-a-block with mines, quarries, and now education city.

  4. Hi Anon,
    Thank you for your comment. I am as passionate about environment as I am about my dread of some unethical and immoral people taking over our Parliament. However, if you are among those who care about the environment, I would like to caution you that the cause of environment cannot be championed by a nation full of people with hungry stomachs. The protection of the environment cannot stand as a deterrent to development - the moment we do that, its cause will be seen as anti-society. Therefore, those of us who care for the environment have to be careful that we are not unreasonable when we speak on its behalf.

    Once this distasteful matter of the elections are over, there is an environmental issue that is dangling over our heads - like the Damocles’ sword - that we need to sort out. I hope I can enlist your support in that cause :)

  5. Thank you as always for sharing the wonderful, informative photographs. Gosh, I didn't know otters existed in Bhutan ! I admire what you do, especially your reasoning powers and your efforts to bring to the fore pertinent issues of our country. I am sure we all care about our country but most of us are bystanders. My concern too is that the party desiring instant gratification may come to power and our future generations will be left withing nothing.

  6. I never heard of such big fish in Bhutan before, where will I see on Au Yeshey?
    Talking about your catches, I am surprised you did hook out some engendered fishes- why??? for studies??? ha ha ha
    The short from 500m away really gives me the real sense of what sort of camera you carry... I wanna touch them once, guruji!

  7. Hi Passang,
    I caught those fish at a time when fishing them was allowed. It is no longer allowed to fish them. You can touch my camera and lens any time you come to Thimphu :)- But the kamtala that you are ... hope your arms will not give way under the weight :)-

  8. Awesome photographs Yeshey... I was a science student and did my undergraduate in Life science though i am in an administrative position right now..i have alys wanted to become an Environmentalist or a Forester but luck wasn't on my i landed up working in a totally different field.. But i am very much a naturalist at heart.. and i like ur photography..
    Uhmm... a little correction for ur post.. its not ICUN but IUCN (international Union for Conservation of Nature and natural Resources).. U may correct it so that the readers can correctly imbibe ur information..

  9. Hi tension,
    Thank you for pointing out the error ... the correction has been carried out.

  10. Why mix up politics with environment?

    1. Wakleyjew ...
      Because of the 4-500 people who log on to my Blog every day, I notice that a huge lot of them are from countries other than Bhutan. So I need to keep them happy too - by posting things other than politics and election :) I don't think they are too enamored by our politics LOL

  11. KB Wakhley, Environment is very much a political issue...documentary by Al Gore (An inconvenient truth) says it all..

  12. My Kudos to the author for being the voice of environment issues! I am an avid nature lover and a big fan of Mr. Yeshi, the blog owner. He and I can have many common grounds, but the environmental issue stands out.

    This particular post has caught my attention the most when I imagine how our country has been recklessly building dams on almost all the major rivers. We are so infatuated with economic development and the concept of self-reliance that not a single river basin is left dam-free as a control to see the impacts of dams on ecosystems. Long-term studies in many parts of the world have shown the evils of dams on both natural and social systems.

    I fear that all these beautiful sightings of golden masheer and Eurasian otter will be a thing of the past after a few years. I would invite people to take a look at how much of water flows out of and beyond Wangkha dam in both summer and winter. There is absolutely no monitoring of the minimum ecological flows that are to be maintained as mandated in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Environmental Compliance Statement (ECS). There is also no assessment of how effective are the fish ladders in Kurichu to facilitate the movement of migratory fishes.

    Right now we can conveniently say that environmentalists are dumb and anti-development, because natural scientists have failed to prove and convince the public of the repercussions of major changes in ecosystems. In addition to the science being imperfect, results of changes in ecosystems take time to surface, giving false hope to developers and lending them grounds to ridicule conservationists. For instance, many corporations in the United States willfully deny that climate change is happening. Oil companies are thrilled global warming is enabling them to explore more oil reserves in the arctic region.
    While we preach the world the concept of Gross National Happiness and the benefits of living in harmony with nature, we seem to contradict ourselves at home by pursuing the model of development that pushes environment to the back seat. Although I strongly oppose mad conservationists who vehemently fight for conservation of certain species while largely ignoring the social and economic well-being of people, but I begin to see that damming all rivers is a gross neglect of environmental concerns and an indication of being excessively greedy.

    We always proclaim that Bhutan lies in the fragile Himalayan mountain ecosystem, but we are making it more fragile by destabilizing the hillsides by impounding huge volumes of water and severing the crucial linkages between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

    I am of the opinion that not all human well-being is addressed by economic and material growth. My hope is that we seek strengths in our social, cultural, and spiritual values to develop resilience and vitality in the face of changing world (climatically and economically) and strengthen those values by being good stewards of our rich natural environment on which all forms of life depend.