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The Himalayan Monal Pheasant and Archer

One of the rare and highly endangered bird species, monal pheasant, has come under even greater threat because of the national sport, archery.

In traditional archery contests, archers use bamboo bows and arrows. The monal pheasant feathers are highly sought after for making the traditional bamboo arrows.

According to the Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association, it is mandatory to use bird feathers for making the traditional bamboo arrows. Archers cannot use alternative feathers like the flexible plastic feathers. While many bird feathers can be used, most archers, if they can help it, want the monal pheasant feathers.

The monal pheasants are found between 2800 and 4200 meters above the sea level. Otherwise seen in large groups, the bird is slowly disappearing.

Hishey Tshering is an avid bird watcher and a keen archer. He is also a tour operator and often takes tourists on bird watching excursions.

“Just four to five years ago, on any mountain pass, if we arrive on time, we could see 20-30 birds at a time but of late it has become extremely stressful taking people there.”

The Indigenous Games and Sports Association also agree alternatives have to be found.

Jurmin Wangdi, the Assistant General Secretary of the Bhutan Indigenous Games Sports Association said “as an individual I feel sad because making a pair of arrows costs the life of a bird. We should give it a thought. Bhutan is a biological hotspot for bird watching. If monal pheasants are vanishing, we should see how we can bring about a good change.”

Arrows made with monal pheasant feathers cost around Nu.1200 a pair. Arrows made with feathers from less exalted birds cost around Nu.300.