Monks in Phajoding Monastery who were concerned about decreasing numbers of the protected and endangered Monal Pheasants, that frequented the monastery, discovered that poachers have been snaring the exotic birds on a regular basis.
Many of the birds residing around the monastery premises are known to visit the monastery early in the morning when the monks feed them. Among the many birds the Himalayan Monal Pheasant populated the monastery premises during the feeding time.
The Monal Pheasant is an endangered and protected species in Bhutan and also internationally. According to the Forest and Nature Conservation Act of 1995, snaring it is illegal. Monal Pheasant is one among the 23 animals listed under the ‘totally protected animals list’ of Bhutan.
The Phajoding monks witnessed that the numbers of Monal Pheasant coming to the monastery premises for food decreased significantly.
This made the monks very inquisitive as to why some of the Monal Pheasants refused to join the other birds to feed on their usual food provided by the monks.
In December last year the monks discussed among themselves on exploring the forest for answers. To their surprise, the monks sighted six birds that were snared and about 50 traps set up in the forest by the poachers.
The monastery area is rich in such species of bird, and the poachers are known to have set up numerous traps to poach bird’s parts. In this case it would be the exquisite feathers of the Monal Pheasant. The blue feathers of the Monal Pheasant are used for making arrows and the feathers are highly prized for trading.
In Bhutan the male Monal is hunted for its feather to make arrows and also for its meat.
“We went looking for the traps set by the Poachers,” said Namgay Tenzin, 35 a Monk in Phajoding Monastery. He said that they demolished all the traps and rescued the birds that were trapped.
“Out of many birds we rescued one unfortunately died as the particular bird got snared in its neck,” Namgay Tenzin said. He said that they also rescued few birds in November last year.
Even today poachers continue to set traps in the same area. This was known recently when the monks sighted another dead Monal Pheasant snared by the neck. The monks also noticed noose or strings in the legs and neck of the birds while feeding them.
According to the Communication Officer with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Pushkar Chhetri the Monal Pheasant is mostly sighted around the monastery area as the birds are better acclimatized in such climatic conditions.He said that the organization was informed by the monks about the poaching of the Monal Pheasant.
According to the program Manager with the WWF John D. Farrington the Monal Pheasant are not common to the world. He said that the population of this species in most of its range is threatened due to poaching and other anthropogenic factors.
The Himalayan Monal Pheasant is found only in Eastern Afghanistan, Northern Pakistan, India, Southern Tibet and Bhutan.
The population of Monal Pheasant responded negatively to human disturbance (Hydro-electric project development) and climate change.The Himalayan Monal or Lophophorus impejanus is a relatively large-sized bird, where the adult males possess a long crest and are feathered with multicolored plumages throughout their body.The females, like in other pheasants, are dull in color with the upper parts covered with dark brownish-black feathers.
It occupies upper temperate oak conifer forests interspersed with open grassy slopes, cliffs and alpine meadows between 2400 – 4500 meters.
They, show tolerance to snow and have been observed to dig through snow for roots, tubers and and invertebrates.