Posted on 13 July 2011
Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) is a 650 km2 national park in the far eastern region of Bhutan, bordering the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The sanctuary is adorned with a diverse ecosystem ranging from warm broadleaf forests to alpine meadows. It is home to some of the rarest wildlife species in the country, such as the Red Panda and Himalayan Monal Pheasant
Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) is a 650 km
square national park in the far eastern region of Bhutan, bordering the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The sanctuary is adorned with a diverse ecosystem ranging from warm broadleaf forests to alpine meadows. It is home to some of the rarest wildlife species in the country, such as the Red Panda and Himalayan Monal Pheasant.
From the two largest villages in the sanctuary, Merak and Sakteng, hails Bhutan’s most prominent highlanders, the semi-nomadic people called Brokpas, also known as “men of pastures”. Brokpas have a unique lifestyle and culture.
With an assemblage of rich ecosystem diversity and a distinctive culture to offer, Merak and Sakteng were opened to tourism in September 2010. Unfortunately, the influx of tourism in the area gave rise to issues like improper waste management and other unsustainable tourism practices.
To address these issues, WWF and SWS initiated an extensive environmental awareness campaign across the three villages of Merak, Sakteng and Joenkhar in October 2010. The overall objective of the project is to educate the local communities on the importance of retaining their pristine environment and rich cultural traditions, while at the same time nurturing tourism opportunities.
Various eco-tourism plans, strategies and solutions were discussed and agreed upon through several local community meetings to address ongoing tourism challenges and issues. Subsequently, at the school level, two student nature clubs were initiated in Merak and Sakteng. Together with park staff, the schools conducted regular cleaning campaigns around their communities. Establishment of a third nature club at Joenkhar Community Primary School is under way. The communities have also constructed and maintained seven garbage pits in their villages to support better waste management.
WWF Bhutan has long assisted SWS in updating their knowledge and information base of the sanctuary. Several rounds of species inventorying (vegetation, mammals and birds) have been conducted in the sanctuary, together with regular information updates. Reference materials like scientific books and field guides have been made available to the sanctuary staff to further enhance their knowledge. The improved knowledge will enable SWS to increase its conservation and eco-tourism potential.
Four eco-tourism leaders from SWS were sent to India for a study tour and training at the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun. The beneficiaries were able to learn more about community-based ecotourism, protected area management and modern management and monitoring techniques practiced by other protected areas in India, such as Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, and other nearby areas.
SWS also recently initiated homestay programs in Merak and Sakteng, similar to those being piloted in Wangchuck Centennial Park. So far, four houses have been selected as pilot sites in SWS and members of the households have been identified to undergo hospitality training in local hotels. The sanctuary will also facilitate private and community-owned enterprises involving the sale of eco-tourism products and services like weaving, yak riding, milking, renting of traditional dress for photographic purposes, handicrafts, sale of organic vegetables, etc. In this regard, SWS is also working closely with the Tourism Council of Bhutan to promote these income-generating activities.
In addition to these eco-tourism initiatives, the staff of SWS must perform other duties like research and monitoring. At times the multi-tasking team faces pressure to meet the different needs of the sanctuary and its residents. However, SWS works hard to balance their responsibility to promote the “lost world” of SWS by welcoming new visitors while at the same time conserving biodiversity and supporting livelihood development.