Bhutan is known for its stunning views and immense beauty. A significant part of conservation activity comes from its protected areas. To shed some light, you should know that the protected areas of Bhutan are its national parks, nature preserves, and wildlife sanctuaries.
While most of these regions were first set aside in the 1960s, they covered the northern and southern areas almost entirely. Currently, protected territories include more than 42% of the happiness kingdom and are limited to mostly the regions of the north. The international borders with India and China are lined mainly by these protected areas.
Let's quickly dive into the details:
Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary
Situated in the North-Western region of Bhutan, the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary covers an astounding area of 1545 sq. Km. It also comprises of about 420 sq. Km of a buffer zone, which includes a lot of parts of the nearby Trashiyangtse, Lhuntshe, and Mongar districts. Tibet surrounds the Bumdeling Wildlife sanctuary in the North and India in North-East.
The sanctuary is home to around 100 species of mammals, including globally endangered species such as snow leopard, Royal Bengal tiger, and red panda. Apart from the mammals, the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary has over 300 species of birds, and more than 700 species plants. Interestingly, about 150 black-necked cranes spend their winter in Bumdeling every year from mid-November to early March. This thing makes for some of the most spectacular spottings of the beautiful birds.
It is indeed no secret that the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary is also a paradise for butterflies. It is known that 130 species have been recorded, and another 120 are expected to inhabit this area. Of course, you assume the natural beauty of a natural wildlife sanctuary.
However, few are aware of the significant religious and cultural places situated inside the sanctuary – including the Rigsum Gompa, the mystic Singye Dzong, and Dechenphodrang Lhakhang. This setting truly makes for the most beautiful monastery of the Country and should be on your list of must-visit when you’re in Bhutan.
For the uninitiated, you should know that this sanctuary was proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2012. And, its floodplain was also declared a Ramsar Site, which is a wetland of international importance.
Jigme Dorji National Park
When speaking of the National Parks of Bhutan, one must mention the Jigme Dorji National Park. Quite famous as the largest protected area in the country, the national park covers an area of 4,349 sq. Km. One of the most biologically productive regions in the Eastern Himalayan region Jigme covers everything you can imagine – from warm broad-leaved forests to permanent ice fields and glaciers on Bhutan’s north-western border.
You’d wonder about the massive geographical diversity in the region, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn about the impact of Indian monsoon on the abundant wildlife of the National Park. Namely, the monsoon rains combined with the topographical gradients, from over 1,000 meters to more than 7,000 meters above sea level, account for this precious plant and animal diversity.
Major attractions of the park include the sacred peaks such as Jomolhari, Tsherimgang and Jichu Drakey. Along with this, glaciers and glacial lakes are scattered in the mountains form an integral portion for the head-wings of many vital rivers of the country!
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Speaking of flora and fauna will take you through multiple alpine regions of the National park, which includes numerous flowers. The species of flowers residing in the national park include beauties such as the national flower blue poppy, edelweiss, orchids, and rhododendrons, among many others.
Also, many animal species are residing here, including the mighty Snow Leopard, Takin, Tiger, Black Bear, Blue Sheep, and Red Panda. Jigme National Park might as well be the only place in the world where the Royal Bengal tiger and snow leopard habitats overlap. Also, for the adventure seekers. You should note that most of the famous trekking trails lie inside this magical wonderland of Jigme Dorji National Park.
Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park
Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park covers 1,300 sq.km and is the second-largest protected area of Bhutan. It lies in the central part of the Country and interestingly has high ice peaks fall away into the low conifer and broadleaf forests.
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This park is undoubtedly the most substantial portion of the Himalayas that is undisturbed. Similar to the Jigme National Park, the varying altitude and rainfall have created a wide range of climatic conditions, creating an environment for the habitation of a lot of varied flora and fauna.
If you’re into coming face to face with beautiful wildlife, you’ll be happy to learn that both musk deer and Himalayan black bear you can find here. Other animals include the golden langur, which is quite common in Bhutan, the rare clouded leopard, the red panda, and the Royal Bengal tiger are among some of the many species found here.
If you move eastwards through the park, you’ll be near about a fifth of the country’s tiger population. The park itself forms an essential link between the northern and southern tiger populations.
Being the second-largest conservation park in the country, it is also home to 391 bird species, of which seven species are among some of the world’s most endangered species. Phobjikha valley, a buffer zone to the park, is the winter habitat of the Black Necked Crane. More than 260 majestic cranes winter in Phobjikha every year.
Jomotsangkha Wildlife Sanctuary
Jomotsangkha Wildlife Sanctuary is the smallest protected area in the country, with coverage of only 273 sq. Km. It might not seem impressive, especially in comparison to the Jigme National Park, but the size is not all that matters! The sanctuary is as diverse as they come and covers an altitude ranging from 400-2200 meters.
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The inhabitation of Jomotsangkha Wildlife Sanctuary includes exotic animals like Elephants, Guars, Pygmy Hogs, and Hispid Hares. As it lies on the Country’s southern border, the Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary adjoins a neighboring Indian wildlife sanctuary.
Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary
Another small and relatively simple sanctuary of the country is the Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, covering an area of 278 sq. Km. Located near the Indian border, the Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary lies only 50 km from Phuntsholing. The altitude ranges from 200-1600 meters in elevation.
Inhabitation of animals includes rare and exotic animals such as Elephants, Tigers, Gaurs, Spotted Deer, Axis Deer, Hornbills, and Golden Langurs. This park is Bhutan’s only natural Sal Forest.
Thrumshingla National Park
Thrumshingla National Park was opened in July 1998 and is one of the younger national parks of the Country. The National Park covers an area of 768 sq. Km. The National Park is home to pristine forests ranging from alpine to subtropical broadleaf. Together with the dramatic mountains, the fauna and flora of the Thrumshingla National park include snow leopards, tigers, red pandas, and rare plants.
Thrumshingla National Park is a critical and unique environment. The elevation covers altitudes of less than 1,000 m to more than 4,000 m, and temperatures of between – 21 C to 28 C. In a comparison of the other national parks showcases that Thrumshingla National Park has some of the most diverse climatic variations and habitats in the world.
This park is where WWF supported camera-trap for proving the existence of tigers at 3,000 meters of altitude! Apart from the tigers, the National Park is home to 341 species of birds, making it truly a birdwatcher’s paradise.
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Along with WWF management, tourism helps in sustaining the various communities and initiatives in the park. One of the major concerns for the Government is ensuring that the condition of the park is pristine for generations to come.
Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve
The erstwhile Toorsa Strict Nature Reserve is now known as the Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve, in appreciation of His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s commitment to environmental conservation. It is the only strict nature reserve in the country and spans across Haa and Samtse Dzongkhags. The Strict Nature reserve is home to epically diverse tropical to alpine vegetation.
Also, it is home to Takin, Serow, Red panda, Himalayan musk deer, Himalayan Thar, Tiger, Common Leopard, and Clouded leopard. The altitude of the Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve ranges in elevation from 1400-4800 m and has an area of about 609.5 square km. Its vegetation includes Broad-leaved Forests and Alpine Meadows. This place is the only nature reserve in the country that has absolutely no human inhabitants.
Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary
Located in the easternmost part of the Kingdom, Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary spans an area of 650 sq. Km and is Bhutan’s newest protected area (launched in 2003). Home to some hugely diverse Himalayan terrestrial ecosystems, namely alpine meadow, temperate forest, and warm broadleaf forest, the sanctuary is home to people of isolated nomadic tribes.
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Characterized by thick carpets of rhododendrons, the Wildlife Sanctuary is home to snow leopards, red pandas, Himalayan black bear, barking deer, Himalayan red fox, the hoary-bellied Himalayan squirrel and even the mythical Yeti (or the “Abominable Snowman”).
Sakteng is virtually untouched by development. Bird species include the Assamese macaw, blood pheasant, grey-backed shrike, grey-headed woodpecker, common hoopoe, rufous vented tit, and dark breasted rosefinch.
Plantlife includes Bhutan’s national flower, the blue poppy, rhododendrons, primulas, and Gentiana, all of which transform the park into a garden of colors during springtime.
Wangchuck Centennial National Park
Wangchuck Centennial National Park encompasses an area of 4149 sq. Km, it is the largest National Park in the kingdom. Several high mountains such as Mt. Gangkar Puensum are found within the park’s boundaries. Located in the north-central region of Bhutan, Wangchuck Centennial National Park covers parts of 6 different Dzongkhags.
It shares a border with Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary to its East, Jigme Dorji National Park to its West, and a continuous biological corridor to its South. The park forms a crucial part of the network of protected areas in Bhutan.
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Within the park, there are two main types of vegetation, Fir trees and Hemlock, Spruce, Juniper trees. It encompasses three ecological zones and six different habitat types, namely cool broadleaf forests, mixed-conifer forests, Fir forests, Juniper forests, Alpine meadows and Scrubs, and Alpine Scree.
Royal Manas National Park
Last but not least, Bhutan’s Crown Jewel, the Manas National Park, is the most beautiful example of the tropical and sub-tropical ecosystems in Bhutan.
While the oldest national park of the country, it only recently opened to the public, the National Park offers interaction with globally endangered flora and fauna and an ecosystem that might be highly fragile anywhere else. Thanks to the conservation activities and the respect to nature that Bhutan shows, Royal Manas National Park is noted as one of the world’s biologically outstanding parks.
The National park lies in south-central Bhutan and is connected at the southern border with India’s Manas Tiger Reserve, also a World Heritage Site. To the north, it borders the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park.
Goes without saying that the Royal Manas National Park is also extremely rich in wildlife species. It is home to Royal Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, greater one-horned rhinoceros, clouded leopard, Himalayan black bear, Gangetic dolphin, and Pangolin. Found virtually nowhere else in the world is the especially rare golden langur.
More than 365 species of birds have been officially recorded in Royal Manas National Park, with an additional 200 believed to be in residence. Many of the park’s more than 900 types of plants have commercial, medicinal, traditional and religious significance.
WWF and Bhutan’s Nature Conservation Division jointly developed a five-year conservation management plan, which includes training and equipping park staff, improving park infrastructure, and supporting biological and socio-economic surveys and park monitoring programs.
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A lot of the information for the article comes straight from the horse’s mouth – i.e., the Bhutan Government’s detailed guides. The National Parks are an integral part of the Natural ecosystem of Bhutan.
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Encompassing almost half the nation – you have to experience at least one National Park while in the country to truly understand the significance of nature in the culture of the region.