As the winter arrives, the Black Mountain range is covered in snow. The Phobjikha valley in Wangdue, winter home of the black-necked crane if full sings. This is the valley where the country’s conservation initiatives began.
Started with an intention to protect and conserve black-necked crane, Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) was established under the royal command of His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in Phobjikha in 1987. The valley is the home to 13 other globally threatened species.
RSPN is one among the few civil society organisations that existed before the Civil Society Organisation Act of Bhutan 2007. RSPN was registered as a Public Benefit Civil Society Organisation in 2010. Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen is its patron.
In the past, black-necked crane protection was focused extensively in Phobjikha. The RSPN in collaboration with government has now started to manage other habitats of the birds across the country.
RSPN is involved in habitat conservation, research studies, migration patterns, population dynamics, distribution, and feeding behaviour of the bird. Since the beginning, it has been working to protect and increase the number of cranes.
Today, the global population of the cranes has increased or stabilised. However, the species falls under the threatened, vulnerable species because of its small population, degradation of wetlands, and changing agricultural practices. The numbers of cranes visiting Phobjikha valley has increased over the years.
In expanding the area of involvement in conservation, the organisation has conducted various programmes to make the conservation methods inclusive, sustainable, and to involve people in the conservation efforts.
Programme manager Rinchen Wangmo said that the organisation has realised the importance of involving people in conservation. “Status of our environment depends on how people interact with it. We cannot isolate them from the environment and it is important to involve people to make our conservation efforts sustainable. The agriculture practices should benefit both the people and environment.”
RSPN conducts various programmes like sustainable livelihoods, environmental education and advocacy, species conservation, and conduct research aimed at significant environmental conservation through natural resource management, development of sustainable livelihood programmes, enhance environmental awareness, and public participation in conservation.
Apart from schools and educational institutes, the organisation has worked with communities to raise awareness and to educate people on conservation.
“It’s an integral part of the conservation effort to integrate public’s participation in conservation,” said Rinchen Wangmo.
Under its species conservation programme, RSPN began itself to involve in the conservation of critically endangered species like white-bellied heron since 2003. The heron is mostly found on undisturbed river basin or wetland habitats. Realising the global population decline of the species, threatened by disturbance and habitat degradation. The species is currently listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The species is found only in the south Asian region. While the species is in the danger of becoming extinct in the absence of adequate conservation efforts, Bhutan’s conservation effort and the ecological greenery gives last hope to the species. The species conservation program has established two important WBH habitat areas in the country – Punatsangchu basin in Wangdue and Berti in Zhemgang.
While investing in the conservation initiative of the species, the rapid growth in development activities are the risk that calls for the immediate intervention.
“The presence of the species in such number also indicates that our environment is good. If we lose this species it can also be an indication that our environment is deteriorating,” said an official at RSPN.
The organisation for the first time successfully conducted captive breeding that could be an immediate option to balance conservation and development by ensuring the survival of the species in 2011. It is also the leading organisation that conducts maximum research and studies on WBH.
While the objective of the organisation is to integrate people in conservation efforts, short-term development goals of the community are the challenge faced by the organisation.
Rinchen Wangmo said that conservation is a big challenge. “People prefer that kind of result which is visible within a short period of time whereas conservation is long term, it takes a long time for you to see the benefit and effect of conservation. However, we have to keep on working with the community to make them aware and educate them,” she said.
Though the organisation is comparatively comfortable with financial management, the programmes being based on project effects the continuity of the conservation projects. Retaining staff is also a major challenge.
The organisation is well established, respected, and trusted by the government. The organisation is supported by the international donors, government agencies, and also through memberships.
Future generations of Bhutan will live in an environmentally sustainable society
RSPN’s mission is to inspire personal responsibility and active involvement of the people of Bhutan in the conservation of the Kingdom’s environment through education, research, and sustainable livelihood opportunities.