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The Kingdom of Bhutan covers a narrow strip of land in the eastern Himalayas between the Indian and Chinese sub-continents. Total land area is approximately 46,500 square kilometers, at their widest points length and breadth measure about 300 and 150 kilometers respectively. The rolling landscape forms a staircase, rising sharply from a low of 100 to a high of 7750 meters above sea level, which may be divided into three distinct relief and climatic zones: the thin sub-tropical lowlands of the south, the broad temperate central valleys and the mountainous alpine north. Rainfall is concentrated in the monsoon season, mid-June to September, and can differ significantly within short distances due to rain shadow effects. Inside this territory are interspersed an array of particular ecosystems, possessing specific blends of altitude, climate and terrain.

The country possesses a wealth of natural resources. Water is abundant, with the altitudinal differences providing a great potential for hydropower generation. While the exact magnitude of mineral resources is unknown, geological mapping has indicated coal, limestone, dolomite, talc, marble, gypsum, slate, zinc, lead, copper, tungsten and quartzite deposits. The essentially mountainous landscape harbors immense ecological riches. Indeed, situated at the interface of several floral and faunal regions, Bhutan is much better endowed in plant and animal varieties than any of its neighbors. 72% of land area is under forest cover and over 60% of the endemic species of the Eastern Himalayan region can be found within its borders, including over 165 species of mammals, 770 species of birds, 600 species of orchid, 50 species of rhododendron and 300 species of medicinal plants. In this light, Bhutan has been declared as one of ten global "hot-spots" for the conservation of biodiversity, potentially the last best chance for conservation in the Eastern Himalayas.

Any attempt to summarize such multiplicity is likely to become fragmented, due to both a lack of space and the limited amount of research currently conducted. Plant life is sheltered within huge tracts of forest, its nature corresponding roughly with the different relief and climatic zones. In the tropical and sub-tropical south perennial evergreens - with wild banana, fig and wool-trees - quickly make way for oak, sal, walnut and cherry. At about 1500m one encounters the first treelike rhododendrons. Moving into the temperate zone, between 1800 and 3500m, there is again an immense localized diversity changing within and between valleys. Poplar, willow, ash, magnolia and more rhododendron are found amongst dominant oak, birch and maple shifting to spruce, yew, weeping cypress, juniper, larch, fir and blue pine. The landscape of blue pine and dwarfed higher altitude varieties converts to alpine meadows above the tree line at 4500m.

Over 5000 species of plant have been identified within Bhutan. There is an immense array of orchids, found anywhere up to 3700m. The Blue Poppy, the national flower, grows within the high altitude rocky terrain, blooming only once over a life span of several years. In spring, and again during the monsoon, the alpine meadows are carpeted with an immense vibrancy of wild flowers - including anemone, primula, delphinium, iris and forget-me-not. Many natural products, especially in mountain regions, satisfy some practical purpose. Aside from timber and fuel, wild plants are used in traditional medicine, for cooking and handicrafts. Bhutanese medicine - influenced by Indian Ayurvedic and Chinese pulse reading methods - is similar to traditional Tibetan techniques, using preparations based on vegetable, animal and mineral substances. Several ferns are used in Bhutanese cuisine, and the buds of a certain orchid are a delicacy. The bark of edgeworthia and daphne is used to make high-quality paper, lemongrass is harvested for its essential oil, the weeping cypress is valued for producing incense.

Animal life is equally varied, including several high profile endangered species. A number of groups are now totally protected - these include the golden mahseer, Rufous-necked hornbill, monal pheasant, black-necked crane, musk deer, pygmy hog, takin, red panda, golden langur, Himalayan black bear, clouded and snow leopards, tiger and Asian elephant. The lakes and rivers support a rich variety of fish - although 42 species have been recorded, possibly another 200 exist. There is an immense assortment of birds, some of which have gained cultural significance. The god Mahakala is believed to have assumed the form of a raven to guide the Shabdrung to Bhutan and the crown worn by respective Kings carries the same creature. Mammals are in abundance, protected in secluded forests and high plateaus and by Buddhist beliefs. Yaks are the central livelihood for nomadic herders, wild boars destroy crops, bears are common threats. The national animal is the takin - a strange looking moose-like creature - herding in the summer on alpine pastures, wintering in isolation within dense forests. The shy snow leopard roams solitary in the thin high altitude air. There have been numerous claimed sightings of the yeti, the mythical Himalayan beast.

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