Do you know which country's constitution promises that a minimum of 60 percent its land area will be maintained as forest for all time? Which country's government pledges to protect, conserve, and improve the pristine environment and safeguard the biodiversity of the country; prevent pollution and ecological degradation; secure ecologically balanced sustainable development while promoting justifiable economic and social development; and ensure a safe and healthy environment? The answer is the Kingdom of Bhutan, a small Himalayan country located between China and India. Bhutan's use of a "Gross National Happiness" index to measure progress, rather than GDP, is well-known, but fewer people know of the importance that Bhutan attaches to conserving its natural environment and biodiversity.
The Second Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation held in Thimphu, Bhutan October 20-24, hosted by the Royal Government of Bhutan and the World Bank's Global Tiger Initiative, revealed the depth of Bhutanese sentiments on environmental issues. The survival of tigers in the wild continues to be threatened by poaching and the loss of forests where they live. This Ministerial was important for its demonstration of the strong political will among the countries in Asia for tiger conservation.
Although the United States does not have formal diplomatic ties with Bhutan, U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy J. Powell attended the opening ceremonies of the Tiger Ministerial conference. She announced additional U.S. support for efforts to combat wildlife trafficking through USAID funding to INTERPOL for the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network and Project Predator (http://www.interpol.int/News-and-media/News-media-releases/2012/N20121024). Bhutan was proud to host this significant regional event, which was attended by representatives of all 13 tiger range countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam), as well as by representatives of the Kyrgyz Republic and Kazakhstan, and donor organizations and countries.
The Bhutanese speakers emphasized the importance of environmental issues and tiger conservation in the culture, history, and religion of Bhutan. They described the tiger as the last of the four sacred animals of Buddhism that is still in existence and related a legend of a tiger coming down from the mountains to let the King of Bhutan know the wisdom of a constitutional provision requiring that forests be maintained over much of the country. According to the legend, the reward for protecting tigers would be saving humankind. Bhutan's Royal Princess Her Royal Highness Kezang Wangmo Wangchuck presented awards to "front-line" forestry officials for exceptional performance and bravery in confronting poachers.
The 13 tiger range countries each gave presentations on their progress in implementing the Global Tiger Recovery Program, highlighting accomplishments and remaining challenges. A keynote address and the second plenary session focused on engaging industry and the private sector in wildlife conservation. It noted how poor communities rely on environmental services and wildlife conservation should go hand-in-hand with sustainable development. State-owned Coal India addressed the need to balance conservation and development. CITES and INTERPOL addressed wildlife trafficking as linked to international crime syndicates and other international crimes. They also linked wildlife conservation to rule of law and good governance.
Delegations at the Tiger Ministerial shared innovations in addressing wildlife demand with presentations by the NGOs, TRAFFIC and FREELAND, on their work. Representatives of Clemson University and the University of California presented new ideas on park management strategies and an open data of best park management practices. A representative of the Kyrgyz Republic proposed that a follow-on meeting on snow leopard issues be held in Bishkek in March 2013 in conjunction with the already scheduled meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Council there . As a final outcome, the Tiger Ministerial produced a nine-point action agenda on tiger conservation, which includes commitments to strengthen protections and sharing experiences and data on conservation efforts. After the Ministerial, Bhutan officials told the U.S. delegation that they sought to deepen Bhutan-U.S. engagement on environmental issues.
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