Although small in size and still to be considered a developing country, Bhutan sets an example for the world to follow when it concerns protection of their cultural property. I am not talking about the years when the human population of this little Kingdom in the Himalayas was not supposed to know what happened in the rest of the world. At the time, keeping the population isolated and ignorant of all the progress achieved elsewhere made them docile and as a consequence reign was easy. But when Jigme Khesar Namgyel, the incumbent king, realised that it would be impossible to stop modernisation at Bhutan’s borders while appreciating development aid, things began to change. Televisions were allowed and Bhutan broadcasting company was set up, which broadened people’s scope enormously and immediately. More and other contacts with the ‘outside’ world were allowed, but their cultural heritage was to be protected for the greater good.
Within this context it is not surprising why and how further actions were taken by the Royal Bhutan government to protect their cultural property. Considering the increase of cross-border travel and trade, accompanied by temptations of the money involved, an increase of illegal trade of cultural goods and other criminal acts were expected. Besides becoming a member of INTERPOL in 2005 Bhutan, as one of the 13 tiger range countries, endorsed the St. Petersburg Declaration on Tiger Conservation and Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) in 2010 in Russia. Although tiger conservation as a national program in Bhutan had already begun in 1996 , now it became Bhutan’s obligation and responsibility to protect their tiger and its natural habitat for the world’s greater good. It was renown tiger conservationist John Seidensticker who has said: “By saving the tiger we save all the plants and animals that live under the tiger’s umbrella.”
A tigress with cubs spotted at the biological corridor connecting Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary and Royal Manas National Park at an elevation of 1700 meter above sea level. The tigers in the area are under constant threats from poachers:
Stimulated by the discovery of a ‘lost’ tiger population in their mountains Bhutan government took this responsibility very seriously and co-organised and hosted the 2nd Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in late October this year in the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu. Ministers from the 13 tiger range countries discussed key achievements in implementing the 12-year strategy of the GTRP and also issued guidance on continuing momentum and ensure continued high-level political support.
In addition to this high-level meeting Bhutan now offers to host an international conference in 2013 on the protection of cultural property. This offer was presented by chief of the Royal Bhutan Police, Brigadier Kipchu Namgyel, during his visit to the INTERPOL General Secretariat headquarters on November 13. “The Royal Bhutan Police is committed to protecting the cultural heritage of our country, our region and also the world, and working with INTERPOL to host this conference will help bring greater focus to a type of crime which affects us all as a society,” said Brigadier Namgyel.
Bhutan has already worked closely with INTERPOL, the world police body, in combating wildlife and environmental crime through Project Predator, providing support to a series of interventions, including Operation Prey earlier this year which led to nearly 40 arrests and the seizure of a range of wildlife goods including big cat skins, rhino horn, ivory and seahorses in addition to flora such as protected orchid and cactus plants.
With illegal activities in Bhutan hopefully still in its infancy, Royal Bhutan government is being proactive and supportive with their commitment to the global policing community. So Bhutan may be small, it acts big!
(Source: BBC Earth News, 20.09.2010; Global Tiger Initiative, 15.10.2012; INTERPOL Media release, 13.11.2012; WWF report Tiger Conservation Enhancement in Bhutan, 2002 – 2003)