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King of Bhutan Receives Prestigious Getty Conservation Award

Washington, DC - Bhutan's King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck has won the 2006 J. Paul Getty Award for Conservation Leadership for his three decades of work to conserve the environment of his Himalayan kingdom that is home to tigers, snow leopards and red pandas.

Administered by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the annual prize is one of the world's most prestigious awards devoted to conservation. The 2006 award recognizes the King's leadership in establishing a series of policies and laws that have had a positive impact on conservation and environmental sustainability in Bhutan. Most notable is the recently proposed constitutional commitment to maintain a minimum of sixty percent of Bhutan's total land area under forest cover for all time.

The award's cash prize of $200,000 will be used to establish graduate fellowships for Bhutanese conservationists in honor of the King and the people of Bhutan.

The King and his government's extraordinary approach to conservation has resulted in 72 percent of the land mass under forest cover and 36 percent of the country in a system of parks and wildlife corridors. "Bhutan's leadership has made a conscious decision to place environmental protection at the center of national life, going so far as to include it in the new Constitution," said WWF President Carter S. Roberts. "WWF congratulates His Majesty for his farsighted approach to preserving some of the world's most spectacular wildlife and habitats."

In his letter accepting the award on behalf of the Government and the People of Bhutan, His Majesty stated: "This Award belongs to the Government and people of Bhutan and not to any one individual for we all worked together to conserve our environment. Bhutan's environmental ethics stem from the dedication of our people to maintaining harmony with our natural environment and diligently following and implementing the sound policies of the Royal Government on environmental protection and conservation. We have sacrificed present gains of harvesting the country's natural resources for future sustainability of the environment and have enshrined in our laws that sixty percent of the total land area shall always be maintained under forest cover."

A land of unspoiled forests, cascading waterfalls, magnificent wildlife and Buddhist ethics, the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan has few rivals on Earth. Wedged between China and India on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, it is the only place on Earth where the habitat of the mythical snow leopard and mighty tiger intersect. It is also home to more than 160 kinds of mammals, 770 bird species and 5,500 plant species, many with medicinal values and many found nowhere else on Earth.

While Bhutan's environment is in much better shape than its neighbors, it still suffers from deforestation, plant and wildlife poaching and other threats. WWF has been working with the Government to address these threats with programs such as alternative fuel sources (to avoid cutting forests for firewood), anti-poaching programs and wildlife research.

A premier example of His Majesty's leadership is the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex -- a joint program between the Bhutanese Government, WWF and other partners to manage a network of national parks and forest corridors covering 36 percent of the country. The corridors allow species such as tigers, snow leopards and rhinos to migrate between national parks, while addressing the needs of local people.

The J. Paul Getty Award for Conservation Leadership recognizes an individual who has shown leadership in conservation in one of three annually rotating themes: political leadership, scientific leadership, and community leadership. It replaces the J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize established in 1974 by the late J. Paul Getty. The award is unique in that it not only recognizes today's leaders in conservation but also helps develop conservation leadership for tomorrow by establishing graduate fellowships in the name of the winner and J. Paul Getty. The award, currently overseen by J. Paul Getty's son Gordon and his family, is intended to encourage conservation innovation and heighten public awareness of the need for conservation.

Nominees for the Getty Award are submitted toWWF by conservation organizations around the world and the winner is chosen by an independent jury of individuals from a wide and distinguished array of expertise.