The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is a country close to Carmen’s heart. From her spiritual retreats to the remote nation, she quickly became aware of the challenges increasingly faced by the region, balancing the community’s traditional way of life with the needs of a modern society, and now actively supports the work being done locally to try to manage this transition. But it is not only the people’s way of life that is under threat, but the rich local environment is under pressure too.
Bhutan is an area of tremendous biodiversity. It is home to 900 species of animals and birds, 6,300 of plants, and the region provides water for one-fifth of the world’s population. It also has the highest area of protected land in Asia – more than 51%. And in order to safeguard both the wildlife and natural resources, the Bhutan for Life project was established, a partnership between the government of Bhutan and WWF, where Carmen is a member on the national council, which is committed to permanently financing the protected areas and the biological corridors connecting them.
One of the specific areas of concern is the local tiger population. Today, due to the actions of poachers and trophy hunters, as well as the animal's use in some traditional medicines, it is estimated that only about 3,900 tigers remain in the wild globally, of which there are an estimated 103 in Bhutan. And while this may seem like a relatively small number to focus on, there is good reason. "It is the political will and determination of the people of Bhutan that makes it a big player in tiger conservation despite its small size," a spokesperson for WWF has said. The geography of the country is also unique in that it goes from near sea level in the south to some of the world’s highest peaks in the north, so tigers have been seen from very low to very high elevations.
Bhutan is a country at a crossroads. It has seen more change in the last 50 years than it has in the previous 500, fuelled in part by an increasingly younger population that is seeking jobs and the trappings of modern life. Though small, it is hoped that Bhutan will serve as an example for the rest of Asia, in taking a systematic approach to the durable financing of protected areas for the benefit of both people and nature.