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An Overview of the Ecology of Bhutan

Bhutan is an ecological wonder. Within an area roughly the size of Switzerland, rising from the Indian plains to the Tibetan plateau, is a natural landscape of immense beauty and diversity. Folds of forested hills, rugged cliffs, fast rivers and young valleys fall from high snow-covered peaks. Austere barren expanses stretch between colossal luminous veined mountains. Patchwork fields of subtly contrasting hues nestle within spontaneous kaleidoscopic vegetation. There are a great variety of individual locales, differentiated by their particular combination of altitudinal, climatic and topographical conditions. These harbor a wealth of flora and fauna, the sheer mass and variety of which is almost unparalleled within such a limited space: giant rhododendron and rare orchid, majestic tiger and quirky takin, colorful pheasant and graceful black-necked crane.

More remarkable still is the manner in which entire ecosystems remain relatively uncompromised by human activity. There is little evidence in Bhutan of teeming masses uncontrollably jostling for tenuous positions or the commanding technological innovations with which man has wrested control of his environment from Mother Nature. Most inhabitants still realize a simple sustainable existence within their dominant natural settings. The inhospitable mountainous backdrop serves to both inhibit whole scale human encroachment and accentuate the primacy of the natural world. Ecology thus survives in all its immense complex multidimensional totality, perpetually interacting within understated natural habitats and relatively stable hierarchies.

Such is its global significance that the natural environment has become a central pillar of Bhutan's national identity. Ongoing government commitments to conservation are uncommonly strong and have achieved some notable successes. However, that current conditions remain so preserved is in no small part a product of the country's underdevelopment. A host of new pressures are emerging that have the potential to seriously compromise environmental integrity. A National Environment Strategy has been articulated which aims at following a 'Middle Path', maintaining a suitable balance between the respective and often contradictory priorities of development and conservation. Achieving this goal amidst the plethora of chaotic, uneven and inherently destabilizing modernizing processes however remains exceptionally problematic.

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