UWICE Hosts Students from the University of New England, Australia

News | Posted on 2014-11-24

UWICE is currently hosting 18 students from the University of New England (UNE), Australia who are on a two-week long field excursion in Bhutan from the 16th - 29th of November. This represents the first ever contingent of UNE students involved in an intensive field-based programme in this country as a result of an historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between UWICE and UNE in December 2013. The MOU covered collaboration in teaching, research and, cross-institutional staff development which paved the way for this inaugural venture.

The students are undertaking a supervised field-based unit in Himalayan Ecology and Biogeography which involves field activities in the Royal Botanical Gardens as well as Punakha, Wangdue and Bumthang in central Bhutan. Prior to the start of their field programme, students were hosted to a welcome lunch by UWICE and a dinner by the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD) from the Department of Forests and Park Services, during which they were given an orientation to Bhutan's culture, customs and its world class protected area system.

WCD spokesman Mr. Sangay Dorji, who had himself successfully completed a Master of Science degree at UNE, said that "WCD welcomed the opportunity to showcase their conservation management activities in Bhutan". Students are being supervised by Associate Professor Karl Vernes (wildlife ecology), Dr. Raj Rajaratnam (biogeography), Professor Caroline Gross (plant ecology), and Mr. Ian Simpson (specialist technical support). According to Karl, "this represents a unique opportunity for UNE students to observe Bhutan's rich wildlife under actual rugged field conditions".

UWICE staff assigned to facilitate and co-teach this field programme include Mr. Tiger Sangay and Mr.Sherub, whose local knowledge and experience, will undoubtedly, value-add to the learning processes and anticipated outcomes. "We have been facilitating a similar field based programme for the School of American Field Studies, but this now further expands the teaching horizon provided by UWICE" said Tiger Sangay who is also currently undertaking a PhD at UNE. He further added that "such opportunities enhance UWICE's rapidly growing reputation as a top regional research and teaching institute".

UNE students also received an expert introduction to the flora, fauna, climatic vegetation zones and conservation management of the Royal Botanical Park from its Park Manager, Kelzang Tshering. Designated teaching-based field activities include monitoring stream ecology, conducting wildlife camera trapping, investigating community plant ecology, and understanding altitudinal vegetation gradients.

Actually experiencing altitudinal differences in vegetation zones brings reality and substance to such information traditionally taught through textbooks" said Raj. Caroline added that "this unique opportunity will show to these Australian students the successful conservation strategies used in Bhutan". Additional activities include a visit to Ura to experience Bhutanese village life, and a side trip to the Phopjikha Valley to see the endangered black-necked cranes currently wintering there. Students will also have the opportunity to visit the famous MotithangTakin Preserve in Thimphu to see Bhutan's national animal, the Takin.

A perfect ending to their memorable experience of Bhutan will be a hike to the Taksang (Tiger's Nest Monastery) prior to their departure. While this trip proves to be the perfect outdoor classroom to learn Himalayan Ecology and Biogeography, it will also showcase Bhutan's unique culture and physical beauty to these very fortunate Australian students.