The protected areas system:
The protected areas system in Bhutan was initiated since 1960’s and in 1993, as a financing condition for the Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation, the parks system was revised for better ecological representation and realistic management. Today, Bhutan has 10 formally protected areas covering more than half of the total area of the country.
The biological corridors:
The biological corridors in Bhutan were introduced in 1999 to connect all the protected areas together into a single uninterrupted area providing free mobility to wild animals. Isolated populations of wildlife or plants are less genetically viable and at much greater risk than connected populations. Many species must migrate with seasons, roam to find mates, or change habitats to locate new sources of food. Fragmented populations are forced to inbreed, degrading their genetics. Fragmentation also halts plants that rely on animals to widely disperse their seeds and pollen.
The corridors’ locations were chosen to balance many factors, including the risk of forest fires, migration patterns of keystone species, difficulty of terrain, habitat condition, human impacts, and the passage’s shape, such as the width of narrowest constriction. The longest is the North Corridor, with a length of 76 km, and the shortest is the 16 km connection between Phrumsengla National Park and the North Corridor.
The parks of Bhutan are described briefly below, focusing on key features and their underlying importance to our natural heritage and conservation efforts:
Wangchuck Centennial Park was declared as national park on 10th June 2008, as a tribute to the visionary, selfless leadership of the Wangchuck dynasty. Located in central-northern Bhutan, it is also the country’s largest national park covering 4,914 square kilometers. It is source to headwaters of four major river systems: Punatsang chu, Mangde chu, Chamkhar chu and Kuri chu. It represents the middle Himalayan ecological biomes, ranging from blue pine forests to alpine meadows, over an altitude of 2,500 to 5,100 meters.
The park is home to 693 species of vascular plants, 43 mammal species and 250 bird species. Charismatic wildlife species such as the Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris), Snow leopard (Uncia uncia), Wolf (Canis lupus), Takin (Budorcas taxicolor) and Himalayan Black bear (Selenarctos thibetanus) are residents.
The Park is home to 10588 people with the total household of 1601.
Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve, is the only strict nature reserve among the 10 Protected areas. The Reserve covers 609 square kilometers, protects the westernmost temperate forests of the country, from broadleaf forests to alpine meadows within an altitude range of 1,400 to 4,900 meters above sea level, and includes the small lakes of Sinchulungpa. Unlike Bhutan’s other protected areas, Torsa has no resident human population within the park
Jigme Dorji National Park is Bhutan’s second largest protected area (4,316 square kilometers) with an altitude range of 1,200 in the south to above 7,314 meters in the north. The park is a vital watershed covering almost half of northern Bhutan, and is an important natural conservatory of glaciers, alpine meadows and scrublands, sub-alpine and temperate conifer forests, warm and cool temperate broadleaf forests, major rivers and streams, and the flora and fauna that inhabit these ecosystems.
Jigme Dorji National Park harbours numerous charismatic species of wildlife, many of which are endangered or extinct elsewhere in the world. These include the Royal Bengal Tiger, Snow leopard, Takin, Blue sheep (Pseudouis nayaur), Musk deer (Moshcus chrysogaster), Himalayan Black bear, Marmot (Marmota himalayana), Red panda (Ailurus fulgens) and several species of pheasants. The park is also famous for its flora, and more than 300 species of medicinal plants are found, including the high-value Jartsa-guenbubor Summer plant-winter worm (Cordyceps sinensis). Jigme Dorji National Park is home to about 6000 people scattered within 1455 households.
The conservation showpiece of the Kingdom, Royal Manas National Park is the oldest park in Bhutan. Covering 1,057 square kilometers, it is strategically located between Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park in the north, and Manas National Park in India to the south, the latter an important World Heritage Site. Thus, Royal Manas is an integral part of a protected areas complex ranging from 100 to 2,714 meters, that includes habitats from lowland tropical forests to permanent ice fields. The park is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger, Elephant, Gaur (Bos gaurus), and four rare species — Golden langur (Presbytis geei), Pygmy hog (Sus salvanius), Hispid hare (Caprolagus hispidus), and Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica), in addition to being the only park with the Greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) and Asiatic wild buffalo (Bubalus arnee).
426 species of birds — including four species of Hornbills (i.e., Rufous-necked, Wreathed, Pied and Great Indian) — have been confirmed. Three species of Mahseer, the rare migratory game-fish — Deep bodied mahseer (Tor tor), Golden mahseer (Tor putitora), and Chocolate Mahseer or Katle (Acrossocheilus hexangonolepis) — inhabit the Manas river, which is formed by the Mangde, Chamkhar, Kuri and Dangme rivers.
Several plant species are valued as food crops, while a number are of commercial, medicinal, and religious significance. Thus, the park serves as a genetic depository for these valuable plants. Royal Manas was one of the earliest recipients of the Fund’s project interventions in the early 1990’s, through support for infrastructure development and baseline biological and socio-economic assessments. Bhutan’s first park management plan was prepared for Royal Manas, and guided management interventions in other parks. Park has 686 households and about 5,331 people live in remote, isolated villages within the park.
Covering an area of 1,723 square kilometers, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park includes a wide range of habitat types, from broadleaf forests at 250 meters to coniferous forests, alpine pasture and lakes, to permanent ice on the peak of Jou Dorshingla at 4,925 meters. The park constitutes the largest, richest and most intact temperate forest reserve in the entire Himalaya. More than 270 species of birds are recorded in the park, including the vulnerable Black-necked crane (Grus nigricollis), inhabit the combined area of Jigme Singye Wangchuck and Royal Manas National Parks — more than any other reserve in Asia, the Park has a diversity of communities residing, including some of the Bhutan’s early settler, “Olep and Monpa Communities”, approximately about 6,000 people resides within the park.
Phrumsengla National Park in central Bhutan is the second major temperate park, and protects large tracts of old-growth fir forests. Phrumsenngla covers 905 square kilometers, over an altitude range of 750 meters to 4,500 meters above sea level. The Park has 361 species of Birds and of which, 6 globally threaten birds species such as, Rufous necked hornbill, Beautiful Nuthatch, Pallas Fishing Eagle, Chestnut breasted Partridge and many other rare bird species.
Phrumshengla has spectacular scenic views, including beautiful forests from alpine to sub-tropical broadleaf types. The soil of this area is particularly fragile, rendering it unsuitable for commercial logging or other development, although it did not prevent Austrian foresters from trying in the early 1990’s. The park has excellent tourism potential, including the country’s highest motor able road. Park is home to about 5600 people with about 1165 households.
Bumdelling Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the north-eastern part of Bhutan, covering an area of 1,520.61 square kilometers between 1,500 to 6,000 meters above sea level, the Sanctuary was gazetted in 1994 and established in 1995. Bumdelling Valley within the sanctuary is one of the country’s two wintering spots for the endangered Black-necked crane. The park has 995 resident households with about 8047 people living within the park. The Sanctuary contains a rich diversity of flora and fauna as well as some of the most scenic alpine lakes. Sanctuary has several cultural and religious sites of international significance in terms of preservation of culture and traditional practices.
Sanctuary has 343 bird species, 734 species of plant, 202 butterfly species, 18 species of Snakes and 7 species of fishes.
Sakten Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 2003 and it is possibly the world’s only protected area known to harbor the highly reclusive Yeti. Covering 740.60 square kilometers between 1,584 to 4,500 meters above sea level, Sakten is designed to protect the country’s eastern-most temperate ecosystems which harbor, among others, endemic species such as the Eastern blue pine (Pinus bhutanica) and Black-rumped magpie (Pica pica bottanensis).
Sanctuary has recorded 30 species of mammals, 227 species of birds and 63 species of Butterflies. It is also home to endangered species like Red Panda, Monal Pheasent and Blue Poppy (National flower).
Sanctuary has 35 species of Rhododendron including the endemic Rhododendron kesangiae. Sanctuary has recorded 622 plant species, 122 species of Orchid.
Jomotshangkha wildlife sanctuary is situated in the south eastern most part of the country and is the smallest park. The elevation of the area ranges between 200 to 2,300 meters above sea level. However, the park is an important habitat for Elephant, Gaur and other tropical wildlife species. It is said that the park also contain the rare Pygmy hog and Hispid hare. The latter two species are known to occur in the adjacent Khaling Reserve in India, with which this park forms a trans-border reserve.
Although it is Bhutan’s second smallest park, Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary is known for its important bio-geographic position, second only to Royal Manas National Park further east. Phibsoo covers 268.93 square kilometers, and ranges from 200 to 1,600 meters. It is the only area in Bhutan to have Chital (Axis axis) or spotted deer, and the only remaining natural Sal (Shorea robusta) forests in the country. Like Royal Manas, Phibsoo is home to Elephant, Royal Bengal Tiger, Gaur, three species of Mahseer and possibly the rare Ganges River dolphin. Unlike Royal Manas, it has no human residents.