Seeped in ancient Himalayan Buddhist traditions, Bhutan is home to tigers, elephants, snow leopards, and mahseer. There is no other country in Asia with comparable biodiversity and intact ecosystems. We are drawn there for two very important reasons:
1. Bhutan offers a powerful model to the world of a strong cultural role in sustainable development and conservation ethics.
2. As Bhutan modernizes, the Buddhist leadership seeks to build contemporary knowledge of global conservation issues, while at the same time preserving and promoting practices and beliefs on the sacredness of nature.
TTF’s role in Bhutan began by invitation from the Bhutanese government and the Bhutan Foundation in March 2009 to study local engagement in masheer fishery protection and opportunities for conservation based angler trips. Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Lyonchen Jigmi Thinley, later invited us to participate in the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Education Conference in Thimphu in December 2009. The conference goal was to recommend a countrywide GNH curriculum that includes holistic environmental education.
From these two trips, we were struck by the need to better involve the Buddhist leadership, important community mentors from Bhutan’s 2000 (plus) monasteries, in an informed role in conservation issues. Last spring, we initiated an in-depth survey of ecology education needs in monasteries countrywide through the efforts of Bhutanese conservation biologist Nawang Euden. She interviewed scores of monastic school principals to identify the best projects to help build monastic involvement in conservation initiatives.
Last summer, with the help of Karma Peljor, Bhutan’s government liaison to the central Monk Body, we hosted monk Lopen Tashi Galay (he’s in charge of sanitation and health projects for Bhutan’s Central Monastic Body) in the United States to participate in TTF’s two-week environmental education exchange. Now, by invitation from the Central Monastic Body, we have been asked to help conduct a Conservation and Compassion workshop for high lamas from throughout Bhutan in Thimphu in March 2011. With funding, we hope to follow up with a small grants program that encourages monks to develop model conservation leadership projects at their own monasteries. These might include environmental education curricula, teacher trainings, eco-clubs, public conservation dialogues, community gardens, composting toilets, solar paneling, ecology libraries, and massive tree plantings.