The protected areas system of Bhutan was initiated in the 1960’s, and then covered almost the entire southern and northern regions of the country. In 1993, as a financing condition for the Bhutan Trust Fund, the parks system was revised for better ecological representation and realistic management. Bhutan today has 10 formally protected areas covering 16,396.43 square kilometers, which is more than a quarter of the country.
Since 1992, the Fund has spent over $6 million to build institutional and human capacity in these parks, and related central government agencies. This includes recruitment of 189 field staff, training 24 post-graduate specialist degrees and at least 389 short scientific courses.
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
Wangchuck Centennial Park, was launched on 12 December 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 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 244 species of vascular plants, 23 species of large mammals and 134 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.
Torsa Strict Nature Reserve
Torsa Strict Nature Reserve, covering 609.51 square kilometers, protects the westernmost temperate forests of the country, from broadleaf forests to alpine meadows within an altitude range of 1,400 to 4,800 meters, and includes the small lakes of Sinchulungpa. Unlike Bhutan’s other protected areas, Torsa has no resident human population.
Jigme Dorji National Park
Jigme Dorji National Park is Bhutan’s second largest protected area (4,316 square kilometers) with an altitude range of 1,400 to above 7,000 meters. 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 harbors 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 plants found here are used in indigenous medicine, including the high-value Jartsa-guenbub or Summer plant-winter worm (Cordyceps sinensis). Jigme Dorji has a resident human population of more than 1,000 households.
Royal Manas National Park
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 150 to 2,600 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). 362 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. About 5,000 people live in remote, isolated villages within the park.
Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park
Covering an area of 1,730 square kilometers, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park includes a wide range of habitat types, from broadleaf forests at 600 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 449 species of birds, including the endangered 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. About 6,000 people reside in this park, formerly known as Black Mountains National Park.
Thrumshingla National Park
Thrumshingla National Park in central Bhutan is the second major temperate park, and protects large tracts of old-growth fir forests. Thrumshingla covers 905.05 square kilometers, over an altitude range of 700 to 4,400 meters. Six species of globally threatened birds are found here: Rufous necked hornbill (Aceros nepalensis), Rufous-throated wren-babbler (Spelaeomis caudatus), Satyr tragopan (Tragopan satyra), Beautiful nuthatch (Sitta formosa), Ward’s trogon (Harpactes wardii) and Chestnut-breasted partridge (Aroborphila mandellii). The Wedge billed wren babbler (Spenocichla humei) was recently discovered here. Thrumshingla 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 motorable road. Close to 11,000 people live within the Thrumshingla area demonstrating, particularly in the highlands, Bhutan’s closest success to a harmonious balance between man and nature.
Bumdelling Wildlife Sanctuary
Bumdelling Wildlife Sanctuary in north-eastern Bhutan contains a rich diversity of flora and fauna as well as some of the most scenic alpine lakes. Covering 1,520.61 square kilometers between 1,500 to 6,000 meters, the Sanctuary was gazetted in 1995 and operationalised in 1998. Bumdelling Valley within the sanctuary is one of the country’s two wintering spots for the endangered Black-necked crane. The park has 3,000 resident households and several cultural and religious sites of international significance.
Sakten Wildlife Sanctuary
Sakten Wildlife Sanctuary is possibly the world’s only protected area known to harbor the highly reclusive Yeti. Covering 740.60 square kilometers between 1,800 to 4,400 meters, 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).
Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary
Covering a modest 334.73 square kilometers between 400 to 2,200 meters, Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary is Bhutan’s smallest protected area. However, the park is important habitat for Elephant, Gaur and other tropical wildlife species. It may 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.
Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary
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.