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Charismatic Megafauna in Southeast Asia  

Faizah Binte Zakaria

“Charismatic megafauna” refers to species of large mammals which engender widespread affection and serve as a focal point to mobilize conservation action. Most commonly associated with elephants, tigers, and orangutans, these animals play critical roles in the cultural, economic, political, and social histories of human communities. In the royal courts, they were harnessed to uphold premodern political authority and maintain military might, helping a ruler to exert control over his subjects. Among settled agriculturalists, they regularly came into conflict over destruction of crops and competition for ranging space but were concurrently part of everyday religious life. Animal charisma in this region emerged from shared experiences living in liminal spaces between wilderness and civilization, where relationships of codependence might emerge amid feelings of fear and awe. The hardening of nature–culture boundaries and intensified resource extraction during the modern period unraveled some of these relationships, placing wildlife in a vulnerable position. This troubled history suggests that conservation efforts need to take into account why particular species inspired a certain affect, not only to galvanize human energy to save them from extinction but also to reimagine spatial arrangements so as to accommodate cohabitation between humans and nonhumans.


Religion and Environment in Bhutan  

Elizabeth Allison

Religion and the environment have been entangled for millennia in Bhutan. When Buddhism was introduced from Tibet in the 7th and 8th centuries, it incorporated existing animistic and shamanistic understandings of the landscape, developing a unique spiritual ecology built on long coevolution with the landscape. The notable disseminators of Buddhism in Bhutan—Songsten Gampo, Guru Rinpoche, Terton Pema Linga, the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, and others—sanctified specific sites on the landscape with their Buddhist teachings. The cultural forms introduced by the Shabdrung in the 17th century have been nurtured into the 21st century, providing a strong sense of cultural identity and historical continuity. Building on cultural and religious traditions, Bhutan’s leaders shaped a contemporary nation fed by a wellspring of ancient wisdom, connecting environmental policy and practice to Buddhist roots, in the context of rapid modernization and change. The guiding development model Gross National Happiness emphasizes the interdependence of economy, ecology, culture, and governance. Forest and conservation policies draw on Buddhist values for their relevance, as do waste and reuse practices. Bhutan’s 2008 constitution codifies the obligations of all Bhutanese to maintain culture, ecology, and religion. A long cultural and religious history interwoven with the landscape has created a uniquely Bhutanese Buddhist form of traditional ecological knowledge that contributes to ongoing cultural continuity and ecological resilience.