Last year, the world celebrated the official Year of the Tiger in the Lunar calendar—a year that held significance for many people around the world, particularly in East Asia, because tigers embody the values of courage, respect, and resilience. I knew the Year of the Tiger offered a message of hope and triumph over obstacles and reminded us of our primal connection to nature. As a conservationist, I had seen this year as a moment for celebration and renewed commitments to their protection and recovery of tigers in the wild. Tigers have been facing unprecedented threats for many years, but conservation efforts over the past decade have shown that recovering tigers from the brink of extinction is possible when we transcend boundaries and work together. I have witnessed how Bhutan’s cultural reverence and love for wildlife and nature have shaped the country’s conservation efforts. Bhutan has designated 52% of the country’s total area as protected lands, all prime habitat for tigers and their prey.
In my culture, tigers are not regarded as biological specimens, but instead as spiritual entities and symbols. Tiger is one of the four auspicious creatures (Taag, Seng, Chung, Druk) and the only real one. The other three are mythical—the garuda, snow lion, and dragon. It is believed that these four sacred creatures represent qualities and attitudes that Bodhisattvas—Buddhists on the path to enlightenment—cultivate on their way.
Tigers have been threaded into stories, religion, and ways of life for centuries. And they are intricately connected to nature’s web of life. Tigers are instrumental in maintaining the healthy forests, rivers, and streams we all depend upon. And they continue to be our teachers and spiritual guides, showing us just how connected we are to each other and the environment around us. That primal connection to nature—through our history, culture, and experiences—can be very powerful in inspiring us to take action and informing the conservation decisions we make. In Bhutan, culture has always been an integral part of the country’s conservation work, and our development philosophy of gross national happiness, or, simply put, our development with values.