In the scuffle between the illegal cordyceps collectors in Lunana and the patrolling team of the Royal Bhutan Army and forest officials, both the parties have been injured while a suspected poacher succumbed to bullet injury.
In the latest report, one villager from Dangchu, Wangdue Phodrang succumbed to a bullet injury.
According to the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS), Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF), the incident occurred on May 12.
The release states, that a group of over three hundred people from Sephu and Dangchu villages had entered Lunana to illegally collect cordyceps. They were found by a 5 member patrol team of RBA and forest personnel on duty at Tshokina, Lunana. When the patrol team attempted to send the poachers back, some of the people began throwing rocks, causing injuries.
In line with this incident, a soldier was medically evacuated by helicopter and is undergoing treatment. Several other soldiers on patrol who sustained minor injuries during the incident are being treated by a doctor on duty at Lunana.
However, two gups of Dangchu and Sephu say the whole process went wrong. The officials have not ascertained the identity of the collectors, and DoFPS has given out the names of their gewogs on the social media without ascertaining if the poachers were from Dangchu and Sephu.
They claim that the poachers could be from anywhere, they could be from the neighboring districts too.
The gups say that this is an unfortunate event, the officials should have at least informed about the suspected encroachment to the respective gewog administration of Sephu and Dangchu. Owing to such irregularity, the consequence is a person losing a life, and the other one is in a critical state, they said, adding, that the villagers at the site will also present their side of the story too.
Some villagers had just encroached on the area to get a better mobile network. The area is a rocky path, they should have analyzed the situation before taking such a decision. They have video evidence too.
The encroachment is against the law, this we accept, however, there was no information of encroachment to the gewog administration that people from Sephu and Dangchu encroached on the area.
According to the information we received from the people, the gups said, that when the people entered the restricted area to get better network coverage for mobile connection, they met with the officials and they immediately held the collectors at gunpoint. People had also told them that the officials didn’t allow them to make calls.
Then, the officials yelled ‘fire’ and started shooting at the rocky grounds. The bullets bounced and stray bullets hit two of them.
However, the gups said they have not given any permits to restricted areas, and they regularly inform people about the restrictions. “We are still assessing the situation, I think both sides will submit evidence, and we will soon hold talks,” said the gups.
Apart from the injured ones, others also faced difficulties, the gups said. “There were people taking the injured to the hospital without food, and many were scattered, they are yet to reach their camps,” said the gups.
Gups told Bhutan TODAY that they were also worried about the people left up there in Lunana. “The officials have not informed us about the presence of people from our gewogs, and the 300 people in Lunana claiming to be from Dangchu are yet to examine their identities,” they told Bhutan TODAY.
The gups expressed that they were not happy that the names of their gewogs have been reflected across social media platforms without examining their identity.
The patrol team has reported six separate incidents between April 21st to 11th May 2022 of poachers from Sephu and Dangchu being caught with illegal cordyceps. In these previous incidents, the poachers verbally abused the patrol team and tried to intimidate them with knives.
However, there have been many incidents of intrusions by people from outside these communities to poach cordyceps, states the release.
They had been stopped and turned back with a warning. It is a serious offense to assault uniformed personnel on duty, adds the release.
The right to collect cordyceps from a particular area is limited to those highland communities who live in the gewogs where it is found.
Cordyceps Sinensis is an insect- fungus highly prized in traditional Oriental medicine. It is found in high altitudes, and in some of the harshest terrains in Bhutan, including Lunana.
The collection of cordyceps has improved the livelihoods of our highland communities who live in the most difficult terrain in Bhutan and do not have any other source of income. There are strict regulations in place to prevent over-harvesting, which would lead to the extinction of the fungus.