Khotokha valley, located at the North of Wangduephodrang District and at an altitude of 2500 masl, is one of the important winter habitats of the endangered Black-necked Cranes in Bhutan. About 6-7 individuals are recorded every winter in the valley. Khotokha valley has been designated as the Ramsar site given its pristine and large wetland area. The valley, besides cranes, is also a home for more than 700 people of Bjena and Rubisa Geog where agriculture and livestock rearing are the main occupation.
The people of Khotokha have been living harmoniously with the feathered winter visitors, Black-necked Cranes, for centuries, where the fields are left fallow in the winter for the cranes.
However, in the recent years, the local community has been observing an increasing and uncontrolled number of stray dogs in the valley, which posed threats to the Black-necked Cranes as well as to the people. The Range Officer, Khotokha Forest Range pointed out the issue during the last annual Black-necked Crane coordination meeting held in Thimphu. He observed a group of stray dogs, about 5, constantly approaching the roosting area of the cranes. According to him, the disturbance by the dogs could be one reason of the declining number of cranes visiting the valley every year.
As a part of environmental education program and controlling the dog population, the officials from Livestock sector under Wangdue Dzongkhag Administration and RSPN carried out the dog sterilization program in the valley from 10th to 12th August, 2014.
The team met with the people of Khotokha and informed them of the adverse impacts of uncontrolled dog population and other domestic animals to the environment in general and to the people in particular.
People were further informed to gather all the dogs and cats of the valley for sterilization. Accordingly, 14 dogs, both with and without owners, were sterilized with proper medication for over two days. In addition, 4 cats were also sterilized.
The team also visited the Khotokha community Primary School and carried out Environmental education and awareness program for the students of class IV and V. The program began with the general definition of environment and differences in natural environment and manmade environment. Students were asked to point out examples of natural environment and each of its importance in an ecosystem. One of the significant aspects of the valley, the student pointed out, was the presence of the pristine high altitude wetland. Students were explained about all the important functions of wetlands in an ecosystem and more importantly to the endangered Black-necked Cranes. The participants were made to pledge that the wetlands would not be disturbed unnecessarily and to inform their parents and other friends to do the same.
The program also included a talk on the importance of having a proper waste management system both in the School and their respective homes. Students were informed that the issue of waste generation each day, especially in the urban areas, is mounting and if proper checks are not put in place, lot of environmental problems like, air pollution, water pollution and ultimately human health hazards would be equally mounting and in the case of Khotokha valley, drying up of the wetland. Therefore, to reduce wastes going to the landfill site or waste dumpsite, proper segregation at source is very essential. Students were taught on bio degradable and non degradable wastes. The participants pledged that each one of them would inform their parents to segregate all the household wastes into bio degradable and non degradable and dump in a proper manner.
The program was funded by Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund (KNCF).