Even “Shangri-La” needs animal sanctuaries & rabies control
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2007:
THIMPHU, Bhutan–Touring the U.S. to raise support for the
Jangsa Animal Saving Trust, Lama Kunzang Dorjee hesitated to call
his work in Bhutan uniquely difficult.
Yes, Kunzang acknowledged, it is difficult coordinating the
activities of half a dozen animal sanctuaries scattered throughout a
nation which is still connected mainly by footpaths, especially when
dozens of long-horned bullocks have to be moved to and from their
summer pastures over swaying single-file suspension bridges–but all
of the Jangsa locations are now connected by mobile telephone,
Kunzang quickly added.
Yes, the Jangsa Animal Saving Trust needs money, Kunzang
explained. Money is needed to start an Animal Birth Control program
in the capital city of Thimphu. This will be modeled after the
Animal Birth Control program directed by Help In Suffering
veterinarian Naveen Pandey in Darjeeling, India. Money is needed
for equipment, vehicles, vaccines, and surgical supplies, all of
which must be imported.
[Contact: Jungshina, P.O. Box 314, Thimphu, Bhutan;
But, Kunzang continued, fellow Bhutanese donate most
generously in support of the Jangsa programs. Unlike American animal
advocates, Kunzang said, he has little difficulty explaining to
fellow citizens what he is doing, and why.
Kunzang showed slides and video clips of villagers walking
miles to contribute baskets of corn to monks who trek throughout the
nation, seeking alms for the animals. They have little difficulty
convincing people to donate what they can, Kunzang said. The only
problem is that the Bhutanese mostly do not have very much to give.
Bhutan, with just 675,000 residents and 24 indigenous
dialects, is among the world’s poorest, least populated and least
accessible nations, with a literacy rate of under 50%. Yet the
entire nation is by ethic and tradition a quasi-animal sanctuary.
About 75% of the Bhutanese are Buddhists; most of the rest are
Hindus. Ethnic tension simmers between the 80% of the people who
practice mostly vegetarian forms of Buddhism and Hinduism, and the
20% who are Tibetan refugees, or are descended from Tibetan
refu-gees, and–though also Buddhists–eat meat.
Archery is the national sport. Hunting, however, is
strictly forbidden. Depredations by tigers and elephants are much
feared, but Bhutanese tradition, Kunzang explained, holds that
tigers and elephants are the elders of the forest, who must be
respected, lest they do even more harm.
Two-thirds forested, mostly more than a kilometer above sea
level, Bhutan was entirely closed to the outside world until 1961,
and is still hard to visit. The mystic city of Shambhala, mentioned
in Buddhist literature more than 1,600 years ago, has been variously
identified with places in Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, and India.
The “Shangri-La” created by novelist James Hilton in Lost
Horizon (1933), based on the Shambhala legend, drew heavily from
Hilton’s experience in the Hunza Valley of Pakistan, at the western
end of the Himalayas while Bhutan is at the eastern end, but even
then Bhutan was a closer match to “Shangri-La,” to the extent of
Just one small airport serves Bhutan, at Thimphu. Paved roads link
the major towns, but motor vehicles are scarce.
As poaching and deforestation intensify in Assam, India,
according to Kunzhang, Assamese wild animals are fleeing into
Bhutan, seeking refuge at higher elevations.
Bhutan has so far escaped violent insurrections fueled by
poaching, such as have devastated the wildlife of both Assam and
Nepal. Hoping to avoid any spill-over of the Nepalese violence,
Bhutan banned the Nepalese language in 1988 and deported many alleged
More than 90% of the Bhutanese population farms the less than
10% of the land that can be cultivated, relying on bullock power to
do whatever cannot be done with human muscle. Most of the activity
of the Jangsa Animal Saving Trust involves looking after retired
working bullocks, many of them lame or blind.
Typically Jangsa receives the bullocks after the death of the
farmer who used them. As aging widows cannot cut and carry the
foliage needed to feed their deceased husbands’ bullocks in the
winter, when grass is scarce, they traditionally either donate the
animals to monasteries, sell them to local butchers, or sell them
to traders who walk them down the mountains to be slaughtered in
“The Jangsa Animal Saving Trust,” the organization’s
brochure recounts, “was established in 2000 by Lama Kunzang Dorjee,
after a personal experience where he encountered five bulls who had
come to seek refuge in the Jangsa Dechen Choling monastery, where he
is the resident head lama. These bulls had escaped from a
slaughterhouse and had been miraculously drawn toward the lama’s
“Presently,” the brochure adds, “the Trust maintains about
600 bulls, 40 yaks, 137 pigs, 23 sheep, two goats, and nine
ducks in the eastern and northern region of Bhutan. There are also
10 goats, two buffalo, and two pigs cared for in a village near
Kalimpong in the hills of West Bengal, India. A further 58 bulls
have found a home in Siliguuri.
“At the monastery in Kalimpong, where Lama Kunzang resides,
10 bulls and a cow have found refuge from the butcher’s axe. A pond
at the monastery has hundreds of saved fish, and is a big attraction
for visitors and children.”
Kunzang cites as his inspiration his teacher Chatral
Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist whose work was praised by Thomas
Merton, the Trappist monk (1915-1968) whose writings helped to
introduce Tibetan Buddhism to the U.S.
Attending the AR-2007 conference in Anaheim, visiting
ANIMAL PEOPLE, the NOAH Center, Pasado’s Safe Haven, and Pigs
Peace in the Seattle area, and visiting the Best Friends Animal
Society in Kanab, Utah, among other stops on his U.S. tour,
Kunzang promoted Compassionate Action, an anthology by and about
Chatral Rinpoche edited by Zach Larson. (122 pages, paperback,
$14.95, from Snow Lion Publications, P.O. Box 6483, Ithaca, NY
14851.) Relatively little of Compassionate Action addresses
meat-eating and human duties toward animals, but the pages that do
are emphatic in rejecting interpretations of Buddhism that accept
Now approximately 95 years old, Chatral Rinpoche has long
spent whatever money comes his way to purchase fish and birds from
markets and release them back to the wild. Practiced as a spiritual
and compassionate exercise by devotees of many religions for at least
2,500 years, purchase-for-release tends to be counterproductive,
since it gives incentive to the sellers to capture and sell more
animals. In recent years purchase-for-release has also been
recognized as one of the major means by which non-native animals are
introduced to new habitats, much to the consternation of
conservationists whose emphasis is on protecting native species,
rather than on practicing compassion.
The Jangsa Animal Saving Trust is finding more practical and
ecologically compatible means of exemplifying Chatral Rinpoche’s
teachings. The Thimphu ABC project will be the most ambitious Jangsa
project yet, seeking to sterilize and vaccinate approximately 7,000
dogs, to eradicate rabies outbreaks that killed three Bhutanese in
Rabies has also occurred recently in the towns of Chukha,
Samtse, Sarbang, Samdrup Jongkhar, Mongar, Trashiyangtse, and
Trashigang. The latter three have each had recent human rabies
Kunzang wants to extend ABC service to these communities,
too–after demonstrating in the national capital that it works.