52% of Bhutan under protected areas

52% of Bhutan under protected areas

The NA to deliberate on declaration of Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary as Biological Corridors taking Bhutan’s protected area coverage to 52% from 51.44%

During the first day of the 3rd Parliament’s 9th session, the National Assembly (NA) declared Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary as a Biological Corridor (BC). This geographically defined area aims to preserve biodiversity, ecological processes, and evolutionary pathways by providing connectivity between landscapes, ecosystems, and habitats.

An official from Natural Environment Commission (NEC) said that by linking larger areas of habitat, the corridor enables migration, colonization, and gene flow for flora and fauna, thus minimizing the threats posed by isolation.

The establishment of this BC, spanning an area of 216 km2, not only protects flagship species such as tigers and wild dogs but also offers opportunities for community engagement, tourism, and sustainable resource utilization.

According to the official, the declaration of this new BC along this stretch would not only benefit wildlife to flourish and support genetic movement of the wild biodiversity, “It would also bring in opportunities for access to conservation funding in the area, ecosystem/nature-based livelihood enhancement opportunities while also enhancing Bhutan’s stands on conservation in the international conservation community.”

For instance, “Pilgrims visiting Omba and Gonza Ney would benefit through ecotourism initiatives like homestay development, nature trail development, and formation of community-based tourism groups.” 

With the conservation management interventions, she hopes to see reduced anthropogenic disturbances through introduction of livelihood improvement programs whereby we hope to see reduced human dependance on natural areas bringing in reduced anthropogenic disturbances.”

 “The new proposed corridor is more focused to protect flagship species like tigers and wild dogs’ habitat protection,” an official added.  

An official said that the communities have been consulted right from the initial stages where community consensus is also taken for establishment of the corridor.

Additionally, nature based developmental activities and integrated conservation development programs proposed as interventions within the management plans are mainly for community development to benefit the community first and nature at large.

The establishment of corridors also aims to provide opportunities to local communities, such as access to employment like nature guiding, specialized engagement of the community in ecotourism activities within the area, and nature-based groups.

It would also include a chapter on sustainable forest management of the areas inside the corridor through the development of local forest management plans for sustainable utilization of forest resources.

The proposed biological corridor is approximately 60.2km (center line) and covers areas encompassing the part of Teotsho, Yalang, Khamdang, Bomdeling and Trashiyantse gewogs under Trashyangtse dzongkhag and part of Phongme gewog under Trashigang dzongkhag.

Of the 6 Gewogs, there are no settlements in the proposed BC area under the three gewogs of Khamdang and Trashiyantse under Trashiyangste, and Phongmey under Trashigang Dzongkhags.

This addition of a biological corridor increases Bhutan’s protected area coverage to 52% from the existing coverage of 51.44% of the country’s geographical area.

BC is a geographically defined area that provides connectivity between natural or modified landscapes, ecosystems, and habitats, and ensures the conservation of biodiversity as well as ecological and evolutionary processes.

Corridors enable migration, colonization, and minimal interbreeding of flora and fauna by connecting larger areas of habitat. Corridors are essential for the maintenance of ecological processes though genetic dispersion, including but not limited to movement of animals and the continuation of viable populations.

Without proper wildlife corridors, wildlife populations tend to become isolated within the areas and as a result can face multiple natural and anthropogenic threats. Isolated populations can become more vulnerable to threats such as poaching, disease outbreaks, genetic inbreeding, and physiological changes, which at the end can affect the reproductive success of entire populations.

In 1999 Her Majesty Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck declared around 9% of the total country’s geographical area as biological corridors and declared it as “Gift to the Earth from the people of Bhutan”. This historic milestone made Bhutan the pioneer in conservation to have natural corridors declared and protected as a part of the protected area system.

Meanwhile, Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the eastern most part of the country and has an area of 739 sq km² of alpine meadow and temperate and warm broadleaf forests. Three major rivers- Manas Chu, Bada Chu and Dhansiri Chu – have their origin here.

Red panda, Himalayan black bear, Wild dog, Snow leopard, Barking deer, and Himalayan red fox add to the mammal richness of the park. Avifaunal species like Assamese macaque, Blood pheasant, Grey backed shrike, Grey headed woodpecker, Common hoopoe, Rufous vented tit and Dark breasted rose finch are found here too. Bhutan’s national flower, Blue poppy is also found here as well as Rhododendrons, Primulas, Gentiana and Cordyceps, a plant ranking high in its medicinal value.

The Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, located in the northeastern region of Bhutan in the Eastern Himalayas, encompasses an area of 1,454 sq km (560 sq miles), with a buffer zone stretching across parts of Trashi Yangtse, Lhuentse, and Mongar Dzongkhag. The Sanctuary borders China in the north and India in the northeast.

Established to protect the critical habitat of wintering Black-necked Cranes, the Sanctuary is home to vast stretches of well-preserved alpine and forest habitats, as well as 296 confirmed bird species, including the rare Gloud’s Shortwing, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, and the Yellow-rumped Honeyguide. Every year, around 150 cranes flock to the Sanctuary from mid-November to early March.

In addition to birds, the Sanctuary is also home to approximately 100 species of mammals, including globally endangered species such as Snow Leopard, Bengal Tiger, Red Panda, and Capped Langur, as well as other threatened species like Musk Deer, Serow, Goral. Some of the commonly found mammals and birds in the area include the Assamese Macaque, Jungle Cat, Common Tree Shrew, Barking Deer, Sambar, Himalayan Black Bear, Pika, Marmot, Blue Sheep, Yellow-throated Marten, Three-striped Squirrel, Wild Pig, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Ibisbill, Snow Pigeon, Satyr Tragopan, and Blood Pheasant.

Nidup Lhamo from Thimphu