Since the terrain is mountainous,
it is difficult to access the innermost parts of Bhutan.
These relatively undisturbed areas are home to some of
Bhutan's exotic wildlife. This makes it difficult for
even the most determined visitors to catch glimpses of
Bhutan's full range of diverse species. Even most
Bhutanese people count themselves lucky to see some of
the creatures that inhabit their homeland.
Found only in the mountains, the
Blue Poppy, the national flower of Bhutan, is arguably
one of the rarest flowers in the world. Hair-like
bristles cover the leaves and stems for protection from
the cold Himalayan winds.
The national tree, the cypress, is
found in dry, temperate forests. Cypress trees have been
measured at over 50 metres tall. The Bhutanese believe
this tree came from the walking stick of Guru Rinpoche,
the second buddha who brought Buddhism to Bhutan.
Cypress trees are often planted close to religious
buildings and are used for incense.
The national bird, the raven, is a
common sight above the treeline in Bhutan. Amusing to
watch, this sociable bird will even perform acrobatics
in the air. The Bhutanese believe that the raven is one
form taken by the country's guardian deity, Yeshe Goem.
The Golden Langur lives in the
area between the Puna Tsang River and the Manas River.
Since these waterways limit this species's distribution,
these beautiful creatures are not found anywhere else in
the world. In fact, outsiders did not know of their
existence until this past century. At present, the
Golden Langur population is not threatened. Its numbers
have been stable and its ecosystem is healthy.
On the other hand, the beautiful
Snow Leopard is a species that is in danger of
extinction. Humans still hunt them for their soft grey
fur, and this is a particularly acute problem because,
even in the best of circumstances, the Snow Leopard has
a low birth rate. It is a solitary creature that prowls
the snowy Himalayas, searching for goats and other
animals to prey upon.
The Red Panda is a herbivorous
creature that stands only half a meter tall. It is
nocturnal, and sleeps in trees during the day.
Tigers are found in southern
Bhutan, generally not venturing too far north into the
colder climates. However, we learned that one Bengal
Tiger was recently found at 2,900 m altitude in Bhutan,
surprising most people who believed that this cat would
never climb that high.
The national mammal of Bhutan is a
Takin. It grazes in valleys in the winter and migrates
to higher elevations in the summer to escape the heat
and accompanying parasites. In the forests, Takins
characteristically move independently, for the most part
living the lives of solitary animals. However, when in
the open meadows of the mountains, Takins tend to
congregate into herds and cooperate in joint defense
when threatened. At first, this unique creature stumped
scientists who try to classify it. In fact, it's closest
living relative is the Musk Ox that inhabits the artic
tundra of North America.
To some, the Takin is better
explained by the Bhutanese legend involving a "Divine
Madman" -- the Buddhist Lama Drukpa Kunley, who visited
the country in the fifteenth century. Because of his
bizarre and unusual ways, many people did not really
believe he was a true holy man. Still, people gathered
around him, begging to see a miracle. On one such
occasion, he is said to have eaten an entire cow and
then a whole goat. Then it is said that he took the
goat's head and attached it to the cow's body. With the
crowd looking on, the Divine Madman commanded the beast
to rise. It did, and now that animal, the Takin, can be
found grazing in the Bhutanese mountains