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The people of Bhutan have treasured the natural environment, and have lived in harmony with its elements respecting the sanctity of life and revering the mountains, forests and rivers as abodes of gods and spirits. The Buddhist faith being predominant, it has inculcated deeply in the people, the value that all forms of sentient life, not just human life, are precious and sacred.




Bhutan has been identified as one of the 10 bio-diversity hot spot in the world and as one of the 221 global endemic bird areas. Almost three fourth of land area is covered with forests of temperate and sub-tropical species that are natural habitat for a diversity of flora and fauna. Its various eco-systems harbor some of the most exotic species of the eastern Himalayas. An estimated 770 species of birds and over 50 species of rhododendron, along with an astonishing variety of medicinal plants (over 300 species) and orchids are endemic to this region.






National Parks and Nature Reserves


National parks and wildlife sanctuaries are home to some of the rare and most significant animals in the world. This has become possible as a result of the combined efforts of the government and the people to keep the country’s flora and fauna undisturbed. The exact number of mammalian species is unknown but over 165 have been reported. Rare animals like the golden langur, takin and snow leopard are found distributed widely. Tiger, leopard, elephant, red panda, gaur, serow, Himalayan black bear, brown bear, wild pig, musk dear are some large mammals found in many parts of Bhutan. The Phobjikha valley in Wangdue Dzongkhag and Bomdiling in Trashi Yangtse are two of the three wintering grounds for the rare black-necked cranes.


Twenty six per cent of the country’s total area has been declared as nature parks and reserves. These form the haven for a number of the world’s rare and endangered species. Very recently, another 9 per cent of the country has been set-aside as biological corridors connecting protected areas. The corridors form a “Gift to the Earth” from the people of Bhutan. Bhutan is one of very few developing countries where much of the natural resource base remains intact. All but three of the protected areas encompass regions in which there is resident human population. Preserving the culture and fostering local tradition is part of the mandate of Bhutan’s national park system. The government has developed zoning policies and an integrated conservation and development program to allow people living within a protected area to farm, graze animals, collect plants and cut firewood in harmony with conservation and park management policy. A Royal Society for the Protection of Nature has been established which works with Forest Department and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The latter gives funds and technical assistance for developing parks and nature reserves, and helps to promote an awareness of ecology among children. Bhutan established its national park system to protect important ecosystem, and they have not been developed as tourist attraction. 


Jigme Dorji National Park


It is the largest protected area in the country encompassing an area of 4329sq. km. It protects the western area of Paro, Thimphu and Punakha districts and almost the entire area of Gasa Dzongkhag. This park is the habitat of several endangered species. More than 300 species of birds have been catalogued within the park. Eco-tourism guidelines have been established to prevent environmental damage. Management guidelines focus on overgrazing, sustainable harvesting of medicinal plants, firewood consumption, and eco-tourism and community development.


Royal Manas National Park


The 1023sq. kms Royal Manas National Park in the south central Bhutan adjoins the Black Mountain National Park to the north and India’s Manas National Park and Manas Tiger Reserve to the south. Together they form a 5000sq. kms protected area that runs from the plains to the Himalayan peaks. The area has been protected since 1966 and was upgraded to a national park in 1988. It is the home of rhinos, buffalos, tigers, leopards, gaurs, bears, elephants and several species of deer. It is also home to several rare species, including golden langur, capped langur, pygmy hog and hispid hare. 362 species of birds in the park include four varieties of hornbills.


Black Mountain National Park


The 140sq. kms Black Mountain National Park protects the range of hills that separate eastern and western Bhutan. It is an important area because it includes virgin forests in an area that is generally known as middle hills. Animals include tigers; Himalayan black bears, leopards, red pandas, gorals, serows, sambar, wild pigs and golden langur, and an amazing 449 species of birds have been catalogued. The Phobjikha valley, wintering place of black-necked cranes, is included in the park.


Thrumshingla National Park


The 768sq kms Thrumshingla National Park lies between Bumthang and Mongar. Set aside to protect temperate forest of fir and chir pine, it is also a home to red panda and several endangered bird species including Rufous-necked hornbill.


Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary


It is 1300sq. kms and protects most of the area of Trashi Yangtse Dzongkhag. Among others it is an important roosting place of black-necked cranes. The sanctuary lies on the eastern border of Bhutan adjoining a planned reserve in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.




Sakten Wildlife Sanctuary


It is in the easternmost part of the country, where 650sq. kms of temperate forests of blue pine and rhododendron are protected. This sanctuary lies on the Indian border and adjoins a planned national park in India.


Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary


This 273sq. kms sanctuary is set-aside in the far southeastern Bhutan. Wild elephants, gaurs, pygmy hos, hispid hares and other tropical wildlife are protected here. The sanctuary adjoins a comparable reserve in India.


Torsa Nature Reserve


This reserve is in the western part of the Haa district, where the Torsa River enters from Tibet. The 644sq. kms reserve is set aside to protect the temperate forest and alpine meadows of far west Bhutan and is the only protected area with no resident human population.





Bhutan’s population is largely rural and farming is major source of income. While forests cover most of the country, the area suitable for agriculture is limited because of steep terrain and high altitude. The river valleys and the flat lands in the southern foothill account for most of the fertile cultivable land. Where as the northern alpine belt below the snowline is suitable only as pastures. The most recent estimates suggest that 7.8 per cent of the total land is used for agricultural production including dry land and irrigated crop production and orchards. Most rural households own livestock that graze in the forest area and pastures. Bhutanese agricultural practices, which are primarily based on the use of natural resources, have been passed on for centuries. Farmers developed farming systems – in various micro-climatic environments to meet their subsistence needs. Valley communities adapted and diversified their agro-pastoral activities to whatever opportunities the natural resources offered. A household would not only keep different kinds of livestock but would also own patches of cultivable and grazing lands. Farmers grew cereal crops and vegetables to meet their needs.


Agriculture is now in transitional phase, evolving rapidly and is stimulated by the changes in technological, market and environment policy. Since the 1980s, the cultivated land area has increased by more than 5000 hectares. The steady growth in the crop and livestock sectors is due to the introduction of higher-yield varieties of fruits, vegetables, rice and maize; more reliable irrigation; and more land being brought under cash crop cultivation. Farm mechanization has also introduced a new dimension to fieldwork.





In Bhutan the interaction between people and forests has always been intimate and strong. The farming systems depend heavily on forests for fodder, plant nutrients, firewood, fencing materials, and farm tools and implements. Forests also provide produce such as mushroom, cane, fiddlehead ferns, etc. to supplement household food requirements.


Before the launching of the five-year development plans, the local civil administrators were responsible for the forests. Users had their defined territorial areas for collection of forest products, although there was no legislation governing its use. Forest fires were frequent due to slash-and-burn farming practices and deliberate setting of fires to improve grazing conditions for the farm animals. Commercial exploitation was minimized and stern rules were put in place to control poaching of flora and fauna.


With the enactment of the Forest Act in 1969, there has been a reduction in shifting cultivation and forest degradation through forest fires. This has subsequently contributed to the increase in the forest cover. After the nationalization of forests, the Forestry Services Division took responsibility for stewardship of all types of forests, which were owned by the State.


Since the creation of the Department of Forest in 1952 and Forest Development Corporation, scientific forest management has been introduced and forest management plans prepared. Presently there are 14 operational management units and six working schemes covering an area of 156,622 hectares.  Under a Royal Decree, it is mandatory to maintain 60 per cent of its geographical area under forest cover at all times. Today, the country can lay claim to the largest forest cover in the world, with respect to its size.


Bhutan is one of the few countries in the world, which can boast of an increase rather than a decrease in forest cover. Its policy is to place conservation ahead of economic exploitation of its forest resources. Bhutan has a total forest cover of 72.5 per cent, which is entirely natural and in relatively pristine condition. The type of forest ranges from evergreen broadleaf in the sub-tropical to deciduous broadleaf in the mid-hills. Evergreen conifers grow in the temperate and alpine ranges. Forest provides not only the domestic requirement for fuel, timber and fodder but also contribute substantially to the GDP at 9.4 per cent. Besides these direct benefits, Bhutan’s forests are also vital for sustaining the country’s rich water and biological resources forming the basis for its immense potential for hydro-power and tourism.


With conservation and sustainable utilization objectives of natural resources as the primary objectives of the Royal Government, the Forestry Services Division adopted a revised system of protected area management in 1993. Thus, a national system of protected areas consisting of four national parks, four wildlife sanctuaries and one strict nature reserves has been established. Currently 26 per cent of the country’s total area is under the protected area management system.


Due to increased pressure on forest resources, a-forestation and re-forestation programme on the barren, degraded and clear-felled area have been initiated to improve the capacity of the country’s forests. In total, about 17,874 hectares of such areas have been brought under plantation.


The protection of forest against encroachment, illegal felling, and fire are some of the major challenges today which the Forestry and Nature Conservation Act, 1995 deals with effectively. Extension and education programe to promote people’s participation in the protection and management of forest resources are being intensified. Pilot schemes to promote social forestry in the form of community and private forests are being implemented in several parts of the country.