Physically, Bhutan can be divided into three zones: Alpine Zone (4000m and above) with no forest cover; the Temperate Zone (2000 to 4000m) with conifer or broadleaf forests; and the Subtropical Zone (150m to 2000m) with Tropical or Subtropical vegetation, because of its wide altitudinal and climatic range, the flora and fauna is diverse and rich.

Forest types in Bhutan are; Fir Forests, Mixed Conifer Forest, Blue Pine Forest, Chirpine Forest, Broadleaf mixed with Conifer, Upland Hardwood Forest, Lowland Hardwood Forest, and Tropical Lowland Forests. Almost 60% of the plant species that is found in the eastern Himalayan region can be found in Bhutan as well.

Bhutan boasts of about 300 species of medicinal plants and about 46 species of rhododendrons. Some common sights for the visitors are the magnolias, junipers, orchids of varied hues, gentian, medicinal plants, daphne, giant rhubarb, the blue poppy which is the national flower and tropical trees such as pine and oaks.

A wide range of animal could also be found frequenting the jungles of Bhutan. Some high altitude species are the snow leopards, the Bengal tigers that are found at altitude ranging 3000 to 4000 meters, the red panda, the gorals and the langur, the Himalayan black bear and sambars, the wild pigs and the barking deer, the blue sheep and the musk deer. In the tropical forests of Southern Bhutan one can come across the clouded leopards, the one horned rhinoceros, elephants, golden langur that is unique to Bhutan, the water buffaloes and the swamp deer.

Bhutan also has a great variety of bird species. It is recognized as an area of high biological diversity and is known as the East Himalayan ‘hot spot’ situated as it is at the hub of 221 global endemic bird areas. The recorded number of bird species is over 670 and there are chances that this number could still go up.

In addition, 57% of Bhutan’s globally threatened birds and 90% of the country’s restricted rare birds are dependent on forests. Bhutan has about 415 resident bird species. These inhabitant birds are altitudinal refugees, moving up and down the mountains depending upon the seasons and weather conditions. Of about 50 species of birds that migrate in winters are the buntings, waders and ducks, thrushes and the birds of prey. Some 40 species are partial migrants and they include species such as swifts, cuckoos, the bee-eaters, fly catchers and the warblers.

Bhutan is also home to about 16 bird species that are endangered worldwide. These include the White bellied heron, Pallas Fish eagle, Blyth’s King fisher to name a few. Phobjikha valley in Wangdue Phodrang and Bumdeling in Trashiyangtse are also two important places in Bhutan that is visited by the vulnerable Black-necked Crane.

How Bhutan’s Bees Help Our Ecosystem

By Karoline Gore

With around 20,000 species of bee in the world, Bhutan is proud to be home to five main varieties.  These tiny creatures can play an enormous role in supporting and enhancing the ecosystems in which they work.  By pollinating forests, grasslands and wild flowers, bees help their environments to thrive, and they even help the broader community by providing financial stability through sales of their honey.

Why is pollination so useful?

Bhutan’s lush sub-tropical plains in the south and sub-Alpine mountains in the north provide stunning beauty, but this rich diversity can also be difficult to cultivate or pollinate manually.  Bees are industrious creatures, able to travel and pollinate in the toughest conditions, and enable Bhutan’s forests, flora and fauna to flourish. Bees are said to be responsible for 80% of flowering plants, but the close relationship between bees and forest habitats is also coming to light; one study found that cashew trees were 2 to 3 times more productive if honey bees were present.  Largely as a result of bees’ work, the birds, animals and other insects in the ecosystem can eat, shelter and survive.

How can you help them?

Bhutan’s culture of care towards its natural resources will no doubt extend to these smaller members of the ecosystem.  Bees are attracted to bright colors, blues and purples, so why not plant the nation’s favorite Blue Poppy in your courtyard at home or with your school or nature club?  You could also leave out shallow water dishes in the hottest weather, to give the bees some well earned refreshment. Bhutan has the ambitious aim of being the world’s first 100% organic nation; embrace this challenge at home and avoid using pesticides which harm bees as well as the wider ecosystem.

The business of bees

Not only do bees help their fellow animals, birds and insects by encouraging plants and forests to thrive, but they also help humans too.  Bhutan’s honey business is thriving, providing a valuable means of income for farmers and beekeepers in all communities.  Keeping a hive is also a potential project for older children to learn from at school, both in terms of being responsible for the creatures, and learning how to run a small business.  Bees clearly have much to offer their communities.

Bhutan’s bee species may only be small, but they are perhaps mighty.  From pollinating forests and plants to help other wild animals and birds to thrive, to providing an income to communities, these tiny creatures provide huge rewards.  Support them by encouraging wild flower growth around your home, and teaching your children how to respect them too. When bees thrive, so do their ecosystems.