Bhutan expands protected area network with new biological corridor

Posted on 08 February 2024

BC-9 connects the last two wildlife sanctuaries of Bumdelling and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Bhutan

By Nima, WWF-Bhutan

When it comes to conservation and sustainable living, Bhutan has the biggest heart. The small Himalayan nation tucked between towering Himalayas has once again proved her commitment to nature with the declaration of a new biological corridor-9 (BC-9). 

The new biological corridor connects Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and Bumdelling Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Bhutan - home to unique flora and fauna species such as snow leopard, red panda and ludlow's Bhutan glory.

The new biological corridor provides an ecological connectivity between Bumdelling Wildlife Sanctuary and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, which has similar biodiversity and minimal disturbances from anthropogenic activities. Its establishment completes the Bhutan Biological Corridor Complex (B2C2) in the east.

 


B2C2 forms a major conservation landscape in Bhutan comprising protected areas and its connecting biological corridors. There are five national parks, four wildlife sanctuaries, one strict nature reserve and nine biological corridors.

BC-9 - which was approved by Bhutan’s Parliament in November 2023 - covers six sub-districts in Trashi-yangtse district and one in Trashigang district. It is expected to ensure animal movement, enhance conservation attention, and preserve 124 species of birds, 25 species of mammals, and 227 species of plants.

BC-9 provides crucial landscape connectivity for species such as the clouded leopard

The Director of the Department of Forest and Park Services, Lobzang Dorji said the new BC-9 biological corridor forms an integral part of Bhutan's Protected Areas System. 

“The designation of this corridor is yet another milestone in our conservation history and indicates Bhutan's commitment to the global goal of increasing the coverage of protected areas for halting biodiversity loss and mitigating climate change,” he said. 

BC-9 is considered one of the least explored parts of the B2C2 landscape. The landscape in eastern Bhutan is known for hosting critical habitats, and it is home to threatened and charismatic bird species such as blyth’s tragopan, temminck tragopan, and saytr tragopan. 

While it is difficult to sight these three bird species in one landscape together, it is possibile in Kharungla Ridge under Tashigang Forest Division. It is one of the most sought-after birding destinations in the east, which falls under the new biological corridor.

People within BC-9


A feasibility study conducted by Tashigang Forest Division with support from Bhutan for Life (BFL) program showed that approximately 429 households reside within the proposed biological corridor. The majority of them - over 83% - are engaged in traditional agriculture and livestock farming. 

The annual average household income of the communities in BC-9 is reported to be less than US $2300. Compared to national averages, both the landholding size and household income in the BC are lower, according to the report. 

The livelihoods in the BC are heavily dependent on climate-sensitive agriculture and livestock sectors. Challenges such as limited market access due to the area's remoteness and a scarcity of job opportunities have led to socio-economic conditions that fall below national standards.

However, compared to other remote areas in the region, residents of the BC enjoy a relatively comfortable standard of living.

The highland community forms major part of Sakteng wildlife Wildlife Sanctuary

Tashigang Forest Division office has also engaged communities falling under the division over the past three years in sustainable forest resource management practices by providing training in community forest management. 

There are several community forest groups specializing in crafting traditional Bhutanese furniture today.

Contribution to biodiversity and socio-economic development


Bhutan has expanded its Protected Areas Network from the current 51.44% of its total geographical area to 52%, with the declaration of the new BC in eastern Bhutan. 

The new BC is of huge ecological importance. It is home to the critically endangered white-bellied heron (Ardea insignis) and the endangered pallas's fish eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus). It is also known for having over 810 identified plant species. The area also supports a viable population of the endangered arunachal macaque (Macaca munzala).

BC-9 also holds a significant cultural value with sites such as Omba Ney, revered as eastern Bhutan's Taktshang, located within the BC area. There are also other holy pilgrimages connected to Guru Rinpoche, making it a potential hub for ecotourism. This could provide off-farm employment opportunities to enhance the livelihoods of local communities.

Tashigang Forest Division conducted a birding trail survey in November 2023 to develop the place into a birding destination in eastern Bhutan. It is also expected to help communities understand the values of having such species in the locality and its potential to help generate revenue through tourism. 

Country Director with WWF-Bhutan, Chimi Rinzin said that the new biological corridor forms an essential part of the forest ecosystem, allowing free movement of wildlife.

“It also has a huge potential to safeguard the economic and social-well-being of the communities by sustaining ecosystem services that support livelihood activities,” he said.

WWF’s partnership with the royal government is mirrored in the evolution of the country’s protected area system. Today, it consists of 10 protected areas connected by biological corridors that allow wildlife to roam freely in five million acres of pristine forests and rivers.

WWF-Bhutan also works on various programs that include research, education, sustainable livelihoods, freshwater systems, human wildlife conflict, illegal wildlife trade and climate change.

Bhutan for Life (BFL) has been actively involved in shaping BC-9 since its establishment in 2018. WWF, a founding partner of BFL, continues to collaborate with them in managing protected areas and biological corridors.

An important milestone achievement under Bhutan for Life program 

Bhutan for Life (BFL), a Project Finance for Permanence (PFP) was engaged in the process of identifying the new biological corridor and helped build capacities of the officials working within the new BC area. 

Executive Director with BFL, Dr. Pema Wangda said BC-9 serves as a clear testament of Bhutan for Life’s investment into conservation and a significant achievement of the conservation milestone.

“The milestone 10 under the BFL Program is to ensure the key high biodiversity and climate resilience value habitats (and areas that connect them) are brought under improved management. Under this milestone, BFL supported the BC-9 feasibility assessment study which resulted in the declaration of a new BC-9,” he said. 

He added that it is an important milestone achievement as the total protected network area in Bhutan now stands at 52%, an increase of 0.6% from existing 51.4%.

“More importantly, it contributes to the realization of the constitutional mandate to maintain 60% forest cover for all times.” 

WWF-Bhutan congratulates the Royal Government of Bhutan, the Department of Forest and Park Services and the conservation partners such as Bhutan for Life and Green Climate Fund for playing a pivotal role in shaping Bhutan’s conservation journey till date.

Additional reporting by Kuenzang Tobgay, Bhutan for Life program