… to when the first advertisement I saw in Asia (Bangkok, Thailand) was an anti-elephant poaching ad by Yao Ming. After four months of research on the intersections of elephant poaching, the illicit ivory trade, and terrorist groups last fall, this was super exciting! And there were more ads like this one, but with more educational information about the origins of ivory, throughout Suvarnabhumi Airport.
When we were still in Thimphu last week, we went to the Bhutan Takin Reserve! The takin is Bhutan’s national animal, and is a fairly strange looking bovid (pictures below). When we saw on the schedule for that day that we were going to a “takin zoo” we were all very excited. Most takin live in the wild in Bhutan, and one of the Bhutanese kings did not like the idea of having a takin zoo near Thimphu, so he let them go free. But then they became as common as stray dogs in Bhutan and cows in India, and overran Thimphu very quickly. So they decided that they needed to bring the takin back to the preserve, but they made it much larger and feel like a forest. The takin now have plenty of space.
But before we even saw the takin, we had an unexpected addition to our group – a very pregnant mama goat! We met her at the entrance to the preserve, and she decided she wanted to show us around, so she followed us up the steep path! Her ears bounced when she walked and her belly was enormous, so we all thought she was just the cutest.
Then, with our goat friend still in tow, we saw the takin!
One of the large male takin decided that he really did not like this cheeky mama goat, so he rushed at her behind the fence several times. The goat was very calm, though. She didn’t mind.
We then went on a beautiful hike around the takin enclosure, identifying plants and laughing at the mama goat bouncing along the hilly path.
Takins and goats and SFS, oh my!
From what I have read and seen (including on Google Maps) there are a lot of dogs in Bhutan, both strays and pets. Some people consider this a serious problem, partly because the expanding population of dogs has increased the risk of bites and rabies. The School for Field Studies (SFS) requires that all of their students get three pre-exposure rabies shots in the months before traveling to Bhutan. This is pretty unusual. Many people are surprised when I say I need to get rabies shots, but according to SFS, “rabies is an epidemic in Bhutan.”
I just read an article from Kuensel, Bhutan’s national newspaper, discussing the dog population in Bhutan. The implementation of dog population management strategies began in the early 1970s but due to cultural reasons proved unsuccessful (the article does not elaborate on why exactly).
Many of the dogs who live on the streets are pets, but there is no pet dog policy to ensure that owners keep their dogs inside or on a leash and make sure they don’t bite people. Tenzin Dhendup, the Agriculture Secretary, has said that Bhutan could adopt a pet dog policy, but that it would take time to implement and enforce.
This summer I am interning for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), America’s largest animal protection and advocacy organization, which is mainly to say that I care a lot for animals of all kinds and I find this situation sad, for the dogs and the people. The Chief Executive Officer of Humane Society International (HSI), while attending a dog population management workshop in Thimphu, said that “dog bite cases are significantly less… where there are strong pet dog policies and laws.”
Clearly something needs to be done about this situation, and whatever it is must work for the people and the dogs. It seems that increased pet ownership and education is needed. However, I don’t want to make assumptions about the situation or give prescriptions, given that I am 7,600 miles away from Bhutan. These are my current thoughts, and I look forward to learning more about the situation when I am in the Himalayas myself.