Bhutanese wildlife rangers are proud and committed warriors of the wild
The Wildlife Conservation Division of the Royal Government of Bhutan, in collaboration with International Fund for Animal Welfare – Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI), has just completed a month-long wildlife crime prevention training for the country’s frontline staff. Jose Louies, regional Head of WTI for South India and a lead trainer, filed this report –SS
Bhutanese people may not endanger their wildlife, but consumption in the world outside will have an impact on this tiny country if not taken seriously by local law enforcement.
Traffickers are already eyeing Bhutan as a strategic transit between India and China. This year itself, there were seizures of tiger body parts, endangered gecko, musk deer poaching and large quantity of red sanders in the country.
My role as a trainer here is to discuss and make the participants realise the seriousness of wildlife crime, how it can impact the survival of many species around the world and how wildlife crime goes hand in hand with other organized crimes like drug smuggling and illegal arms.
We have already completed four sessions, training and equipping about 150 frontline forest guards from seven protected areas and forest divisions. For many of the participants, this was the first of any training in their career.
“These kind of trainings are very much needed for these frontline staff as they interact and deal with people at ground level, they need to be confident and should know the legalities very well so that they can make the general public understand about the laws, importance of conserving wildlife and the value of wildlife for our future existence,” says Sonam Tobgay, divisional forest officer of Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary.
During the interactions we held, one thing was very clear: These rangers are proud and committed to protect their forests, wildlife and country’s natural heritage. “I walk along with my colleagues for miles during our forest patrol in Wangchuk Centennial Park, covering large areas of wilderness during our weeks patrolling,” said one participant. “When I see the wildlife around, I feel proud that I am actually the guardian of these beautiful creatures.”
These frontline people are true warriors of the wild, protecting this wealth amidst numerous challenges. They fight tradition and beliefs of using wildlife for medicine, increases in wildlife conflict and pressure from poachers and hunters.
During our training sessions, we interacted with them, discussing issues like growing demand for tiger bones and body parts across the world and talking about the conservation laws of the country. The discussions were very engaging as we gave case studies for them to discuss in groups and come out with answers.
The following are direct quotes from some of the rangers with whom we interacted:
“Bear bile can be used for jaundice, diabetes, fever, body pain and many other ailments; most of our village people use bile as medicine, [where a] small quantity is wrapped in flour or cheese and then swallowed... It is so powerful that if you take it directly, it will loosen the gums and knock your teeth down,” said a forest guard, who was sitting with me at the fireplace over an informal chat during dinner.
“The fact is that today we have modern medicines and treatments for all these diseases, but many people in the rural areas do not having faith in the modern medicine; they follow the traditional beliefs and breaking these myths is our biggest challenge,” another commented.
Bhutan is a different world.
The country is mystical and mythical at every corner. You can see clusters of prayer flags everywhere, monasteries on remote hill sides, prayer wheels rotating eternally using the force of flowing water, and people in pursuit of happiness. The government measures the country’s “gross national happiness.” Crime rates are low. Strangers greet you as they have known you for ages. Life is generally quiet and calm.
Bhutan’s natural wealth is no longer a secret; only timely preventive interventions can ensure that it is conserved for generations to come. The authorities in Bhutan are already working on several fronts to ensure this, be it upgrading laws at the policy level, or providing the frontline staff with the best training available on the ground.
We have three more sessions to complete, to reach out to these guardians who spend their days and nights in remote corners, virtually cut off from the rest of the world, guarding the natural treasure with the blessings of the mythical Druk, the thunder dragon.
Training and equipping them with field gear to help them navigate the forests as they keep poachers off, is just a little gesture of our gratitude and support.