Bhutan is one of the ecological wonders of the world.
Located in the eastern Himalayas, it straddles the Indo-Malayan realm, which consists of lowland forests of South and Southeast Asia, and the Pale-artic realm consisting of conifer forests and alpine meadows of northern Asia and Europe.
This location gives her an incredible habitat range that starts from the hot tropical forests in the southern foothills moving to the temperate region and then going all the way up to the cold alpine north.
Within this largely intact natural environment exists an unmatched diversity of flora and fauna. About 5,603 species of angiosperm and gymnosperms including 579 orchids, 46 rhododendrons, over 300 medicinal plants and at least 30 bamboo species have been recorded in Bhutan.
Almost 200 species of mammals have been recorded including the Royal Bengal Tiger, Snow Leopard, Red Panda, Takin, Golden Langur, Asiatic Elephant and the Himalayan Musk Deer.Of the 675 bird species found in Bhutan, Birdlife International has listed 14 as globally threatened and 10 as near threatened.
Bhutanâ€™s pristine eco system includes forest cover of more than 72 percent. It also has four major river systems â€“ The Drangme Chhu; the Punatsang Chhu, the Wang Chhu, and the Amo Chhu flowing from the Himalayas to the southern plains of India and into the Brahmaputra river of India. Many tributaries feed these rivers.
The eco system also includes wetlands, marshes, and 677 glaciers containing 2,674 glacial lakes, which are the source of some of the largest river basins in the country.
If Bhutan has managed to keep its natural environment intact it is largely because of values and belief systems drawn from Buddhism, which advocates respect for all forms of life with which we share the world.
This value system is at the core of government policies to protect the natural environment and more than 26 percent of the country comes under protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries.
Below are brief descriptions of the protected areas in the country.
JIGME DORJI WANGCHUCK NATIONAL PARK
This is the largest protected area in the country measuring 4,329 Sq.km and spreads over five western districts. The park is home to many endangered species like the Snow Leopard, Blue Sheep, Red Panda, Leopard, Wild Cats, Barking deer and Serow.
ROYAL MANAS NATIONAL PARK
Located in South Central Bhutan, Royal Manas stretches for 1,023 Sq.km and shares biological corridors with Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve in India. The park was established in 1966 and is home to Rhinos, Asian Elephants, Bengal Tigers, Leopards, and the Golden Langur. Some 362 species of birds have been recorded in this park.
JIGME SINGYE WANGCHUCK NATIONAL PARK
Jigme Singye Park has an area of 1,400 Sq.km and is home to the Black Mountain Range that separates eastern and western Bhutan. The park serves as a sanctuary to Tigers, Black Bears, Leopards and as many as 449 species of birds.
PHIBSOO WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Set up in 1974 the park has a diverse mix of wildlife including the Chital deer, Elephant, Guar, Tiger, the Golden Langur, and Hornbill. It is the second smallest sanctuary in Bhutan.
THRUMSHINGLA NATIONAL PARK
The ancient fir and chirpine forest is found in abundance in Thrumshingla National Park. Birdlife International has recognized the park as an important Bird Area in the Sino-Himalayan mountain forests. Over 68 species of mammals have been recorded including the Bengal tiger, Leopard, Leopard cat, Clouded leopard, Himalayan black bear, Red panda, Musk deer, Capped Langur and Malayan giant squirrel.
BOMDELING WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Just 1.545 Sq.km in area, the sanctuary in the eastern district of Trashiyangtse is home to Blue Sheep, Snow Leopard, Red Panda, Tiger, Leopard, Black Bear, numerous species of birds, and the Black Necked Cranes.
The northern part of the sanctuary is full of glacial lakes, valleys, scrubland, alpine pastures, glaciers, snow peaks and scree slopes.
SAKTEN WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Sakten Sanctuary is so remote and near the Himalayas that it is considered to be the home of Yetis, the mythical abominable snowman. The Brokpas, an indigenous nomadic community, have been living here for centuries. Its attraction also includes forests of rhododendrons.
TORSA STRICT NATURE RESERVE
Located in the western region of Haa District, Torsa Nature Reserve gets its name from the Torsa River, which flows down from Tibet. It was set aside to protect the pristine Alpine forests of that region. This is the only park in Bhutan devoid of any human habitation.