The Bhutanese people and animals



Yak in Bhutan

Yak, badly in need of a new hairdresser, in Bhutan

Just as you can tell a lot about a person in terms of how they treat people they may view as being “inferior” to them, whether a waitress, a member of the U.S. Congress or the grocery check-out clerk, you can also tell a great deal about people by how they treat animals. In Bhutan people do not kill animals (unless they have to for sustenance, but that doesn’t provide as many loopholes as you’d think). Apparently very few animals are on social media or travel internationally as otherwise surely they would be moving to Bhutan in droves.

And, lest you be confused, the Bhutanese are not forbidden (by their religious teachings) from eating animals. Although many Bhutanese are vegetarians they do not have to be. They cannot kill the food they eat but they can outsource the butchering, generally to India, and eat meat that others have killed. In fact meat consumption has been increasing  in Bhutan over the last 10 years. (Based on Blonde’s dietary experiences that cannot be explained by the meat from India being super yummy.)

Wild dogs chasing car in Thimphu, Bhutan

A fraction of the pack of dogs chasing one of our cars out of Thimphu.

Although not killing animals may be admirable it also has its downside. Probably the most obvious one is the packs of wild dogs all over the country. In Thimphu a vacant lot beside our hotel was apparently a popular spot for dogs to congregate and howl all night. And they chased our cars out of town in a manner that didn’t seem to indicate that they were wishing us well on our journey.

But killing animals includes euthanasia so the dog over-population won’t be addressed that way. And, although the government encourages spaying and neutering it isn’t economically feasible for them to round up and “fix” the stray dogs that are all over the country. (Are we back to talking about Congress again and the need to spay old dogs?)

So although all animals are safe from harm that doesn’t mean they will be well taken care of. We saw lots of hungry-looking dogs with mange, particularly in small villages.  There aren’t the resources and it isn’t the culture where one buys Fido a bed, a Burberry sweater and feeds him gluten-free doggie treats.

Cows on the road in Bhutan

One of our drivers playfully telling a cow to move – it totally ignored him.

A common misconception is that the animals are not being killed because of a belief in reincarnation but that is not actually a Buddhist belief. However, Buddhists are big on karma which basically says that a person’s “nobility of character” is dependent on his good thoughts, actions, and words. And killing any “sentient being”  is a definite no-no and will create an overdraft in the person’s karmic bank.

What, you may ask, is a “sentient being?” Well it probably isn’t Blonde’s brother-in-law but that alone isn’t adequate for a definition. You’re know you’re taking a risk having Blonde tell you what constitutes a “sentient being” to Buddhists or anyone else. But she used the highly respected theological teachings of which says:  “Sentient means to be endowed with feeling and unstructured consciousness. Sentience is the capacity for basic consciousness. It is the ability to feel or perceive, not necessarily including the faculty of self-awareness.” Buddhism seems to throw in an extra marker which is that the being is “unenlightened”. See why we referenced the brother-in-law?

Somehow all of this results in cows wandering around everywhere. They’re all over the main highway in the country which is dreadful enough without a bunch of cows rambling along it. But the drivers don’t blow the horn or exhibit road (or cow) rage, they just wait for the animals to plod out of the way. In lots and lots of time on the highways over 12 days we never saw an animal that had been hit by a car.

Assamese macaque monkeys in Bhutan

Assamese macaque monkeys along the road in Bhutan. (It’s taking a lot of nobility of character not to make a crude joke about the name of this type of monkey.)

Monkeys are not as common a sighting as cows so we were quite thrilled to see this group from our car one day. But the guide and drivers did not go near the monkeys. Bhutan has a fairly high rate of rabies among the wild dogs and monkeys so take a picture through the car window and whatever you do, don’t touch one.

Abandoned bay deer in Bhutan

An abandoned baby deer who drew as much adoration from our guide and drivers as Blonde would lavish on George Clooney (at least before his engagement).

The most intersesting and hilarious people/animal interaction came the day we were driving along and saw a man with a baby deer. Our cars pulled over and the guide and drivers scrambled out in excitement. Apparently the man had somehow discovered  an abandoned baby deer and was planning to take it home and care for it. (Where Blonde and Brunette grew up in western Pennsylvania a suddenly discovered deer often meant dinner to some people. Not us, in case you’re wondering.)

Blonde’s roommate, Shelby, a substitute Brunette, was quick to offer helpful advice on teaching a wild animal to nurse. Shelby is originally from Wyoming, has lived her adult life in Saskatchewan and once had someone drop by her house with a premature, deserted baby elk in need of saving. She clearly was the one with the credentials.

Shelby asked the man if he was going to try to get the baby deer to nurse. He said he was so Shelby forcibly, and many times in succession, informed him that in order to get the deer to “take the nipple” he would need to “lick” it under its tail.  Yes, lick and yes, what you think is under a deer’s tail is indeed what is there. Blonde didn’t even laugh she was so astounded, as were the others. The less enthusiastic the man or anyone appeared to be about this advice the more Shelby reiterated it. She also assured the man that it had worked for her with the elk. (The elk died so maybe it wasn’t all that successful….)

Our guide and drivers all took turns holding the deer and even kissing its head. (A few of them may have wanted to kiss Shelby’s too.) We drove off  and, in a very rare turn of events, Blonde didn’t have much to say. Later that evening she asked Shelby if she had in fact licked an elk’s, um, under the tail place. Shelby said “licked“??? No, I wiped it. You have to do that to get them to nurse.”

When Blonde tactfully informed Shelby that she had used the word “licked” not “wiped” and had used it repeatedly and insistently Shelby accused Blonde of not being a good roommate by bailing her out of the situation! The nerve! What would Emily Post have done? And anyway it was much more fun the way it happened.

A Takin, the national animal of Bhutan

A Takin, the hideous national animal of Bhutan.

As further proof of the Bhutanese people’s kindness to animals witness the Takin which is pictured above. This huge, hideous creature is the national animal! It was (so the story goes) created by the Divine Madman who ate a whole goat and a whole cow and then stuck the goat’s head on the cow’s body and – voila – a Takin! Now if you had powers of that sort wouldn’t you maybe blend a puppy and a kitten? But a cow and a goat? And then it becomes the national animal?! And if, by accident you made a Takin, wouldn’t euthanasia seem like something worth consideration?

The Bhutanese may be humane but they could use some direction from the Marketing Department of Gross National Happiness in choosing a more appealing national animal. And we only hope that poor deer isn’t suffering from Shelby’s advice….



  1. says

    Wow your pictures are absolutely AMAZING and you so perfectly captured the culture in Bhutan (a place I’ve never heard of before)! I’m so interested in traveling, and thanks to you, this animal-loving place is now on my bucket list to visit! Thank you!

  2. nevafels says

    This was such an interesting discussion of all the animals roaming anywhere they want to. It’s scary that the dogs are becoming such a dangerous problem. Loved the commentary on getting in those licks.

    • says

      I think the dogs have been an issue forever although several years ago they had a spaying and neutering program that helped at least for a while. The relatively good news is they don’t come up to you. They might chase a runner or someone on a bicycle but I never had one just come up to me when I was walking around. Hearing them howl at night is a whole other issue though – that happens everywhere.

  3. Rinchen Happy says

    Hey there !!
    It is not that only Bhutanese were lovely and place is fascinating but also equally you, yourself were all the more lovely and fascinating too. Happy to you took good memories of my people and country.
    Three cheers to you!!

  4. Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque) says

    When I tried to list Bhutan as a country in some on-line quiz, it would not recognize it and I’m pretty sure I spelled it correctly? Is it an independent nation? I think I’d be disturbed by the stray dogs — even since we acquired a furry family member.

    • says

      Yes, it’s an independent country so the quiz was done poorly – it wasn’t you! The dogs are annoying when they chase a car and when they howl at night. They don’t, however, just come up to you and bother you. They’re sort of sad because a lot aren’t in good condition but a solution isn’t likely to occur because of money and religion (sound familiar?).

  5. Namgay Wangchuk says

    interesting but the last story, you got it wrong. It was like this, people was reluctant to believe in divine madman supernatural power so they decided to see for themselves hence they offer him the bones of dead cow and skull of the goat. He saw that coming, so he just snap his finger and joint the head along with body and ask to go up the mountain and gaze the plant until your its body was covered with flesh and comeback, and hence that happen.

    • says

      I was told the story correctly but abbreviated it for my story. I guess I should have been more accurate – thanks for pointing that out to me. I’m glad you stopped by my blog. Kay

  6. says

    I’ve never been to Bhutan, but it sounds so interesting. I love all animals and am a very strict vegetarian. I understand that packs of wild dogs running around isn’t a great thing, but I sure do wish more places in the world had more respect for animals 🙂

    • says

      I agree but it seems to me that part of respecting animals is trying to make their lives comfortable and that a spay and neuter program is badly needed. In the cities the dogs don’t look so hungry but some in the countryside would break your heart.

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by – glad you enjoyed it! There were a lot of perplexed faces with the baby deer instructions. I just hope they thought they weren’t understanding Shelby’s English because she would surely never be suggesting such a thing!

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