Bhutan


The country

The country

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small landlocked country occupying about 38400 km2 on the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas.  The country extends 325 km in east-west and 175 km in north-south direction.  It borders the Indian states of Sikkim to the west, West Bengal and Assam to the south, and Arunachal Pradesh in the east.  In the north the main Himalayan Range separates it from the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China.  Mountains dominate the country’s landscape with altitudes ranging from 97 m asl. in the south (Drangme Chu) to 7570 m in the north (Gangar Puensum).  The extensive river network with its major north-south running valleys divides the country into mountain ranges mainly following the same direction and creates extremely diverse topography.

Government

Government

Bhutan is a hereditary kingdom since 1907. The current king, HM Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck has reigned the country since 2006. Transition to a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy is recent with the first free elections held in March 2008. The country is divided into 20 dzongkhags (districts).

People

People

Data on the population of Bhutan vary extremely but most sources state the country to have about 700.000 inhabitants. Several smaller and three larger ethnic groups make up the population. These are the Ngalongs in the west, the Sharchops in the east and the Nepali-speaking Lhotsampas in the south of the country. Beside these three major ethnic groups, several smaller ones exist in the country, where 19 indigenous languages and several more dialects are spoken. The use of English is wide-spread in the administration and among the educated, however, in recent years emphasis is given to making Dzongkha, the National language, also the official working language of Bhutan.
Bhutanese society has never had a rigid class system and social and educational opportunities are commonly equal for all. Bhutanese women enjoy equal rights with men, in fact in several regions of the country matriarchy dominates the society.

Religion

Religion

The state religion is the Drukpa Kagyu branch of Mahayana Buddhism, which was institutionalized in Bhutan by Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel in the 17th century. Besides Drukpa Kagyu, other branches of Mahayana Buddhism, as well as Hinduism are also widely practiced.  Religion plays a very important role in the Bhutanese way of life, which has several implications for government policy. Amongst others, the Bhutanese Government’s strong dedication towards conservation of natural resources is rooted in the Buddhist philosophy, where the respect of nature and life are central issues.
Several important Buddhist saints are associated with Bhutan, among them Padmasambhava (Guru Rimpoche), Milarepa, Pema Lingpa, Drukpa Kinley, whose memory is vividly alive.

Land use

Land use

Bhutan's mostly rugged landscape is covered by forests to 64.4%. Considering the additional 8.1% of scrubland, a total of 72.5% of the country is covered by forest vegetation. Agriculture, which sustains the livelihood for the vast majority of the population (85%), relies heavily on nutrient input from forests through forest grazing and sokshing practices. This heavy interdependence between agriculture and forestry requires an integrated management approach. Understanding the complex interaction between agriculture and forestry is crucial to maintain the sustainability of land use in the long term and therefore FORED strongly focuses on this field. This complies with the requirements for farmer-oriented research by RNR-RC centres in Bhutan, among them RNR-RC Jakar as the national focal centre for livestock sector research. Possible fields of investigation include the effects of forest grazing and its use as forest management tool, research on silvopastoral systems, etc.

Conservation

Conservation

Stemming from strong conservation ethics, the National Assembly ruled to keep a minimum of 60% of the country's area under forest cover for the future. Currently, a total of 26.23% of the country is protected in National Parks, Reserves and Sanctuaries. In addition, 9.5% of the country is set aside for biological corridors linking protected areas. Therefore, the Protected Area network occupies 35.73% of the country, which is unique worldwide.

Vegetation zones

Vegetation zones

The forests of Bhutan cover 72,5% of the landscape (LUPP 1995), out of which 8,1% is scrub forest. The country is divided into three rough physiographical zones, out of which the forests are located in the two southern zones. The Northern Zone covers areas at altitudes above the timberline. The Central Zone roughly covers the altitude between 1000 m and 4000 m asl. and encompasses major forest areas. The zone of temperate conifer forests extend between 2500 and 4200 m asl. The Southern Zone lies below the altitude of 2500 m and encompasses subtropical and tropical forests.
 
In 1957, Schweinfurth published the vegetation map of the Himalayas. It was the first endeavour to show the great variety of local conditions within the Himalayas from Kabul in the west to the Yangtsekiang in the east. Three levels of differentiation within the Himalayan subsystems are recognised by this author:
1. the sequence of climatic transition from east to west along the foot of the ranges.
2. the vertical sequence, which includes the belt of relative higher humidity and more luxurious  vegetation extending across the entire southern slope; and
3. the contrasts between the wet-humid-moist southern slope (Outer Himalayas), the Tibetan Himalayas and the Inner Himalayas, distinguished in various parts of the systems by its transitional character.

All three factors create a three dimensional climatic framework which leads to patterns of vegetation zonation, whose strongest characteristic are altitudinal, mostly monospecific-dominant zones, ranging from the lowest Shorea to the highest Abies zone. Multi-species dominated are found mostly in low to middle elevations and on the outerm southern slopes of the Himalayas. The east - west gradient in precipitation is a major determinant of differences in forest types between the dry west and the humid east of the mountain belt.