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Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) is located in the North-western part of Bhutan. Measuring approximately 4,316 km2 (or 431,600 ha) ,the second largest natural preserve in the country and one of the richest in terms of cultural and biological diversity among the protected areas. It is one of the oldest national parks in the country. It was established in 1974 as a wildlife sanctuary in memory of the late Third King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. It was then covering the entire Northern strip of the country. Later in 1993, after the major revision of protected area system in the country it was upgraded to national park and the boundary of the park was greatly reduced and was confined to only north western part of Bhutan.
JDNP is one of Bhutan's conservation jewels. It is the home to many globally endangered species of flora and fauna, such as Tiger, Snow leopard, Asiatic wild dog Himalayan musk deer etc. A distinct culture of Layap, a semi nomadic community is also preserved in the park. It is a conservation heritage of culture and nature in harmony.
1. It is the only park in the world where the Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) meets the Snow leopard (Uncia uncia).
2. The park where the Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) was recorded at 4200 masl and the highest recorded among the Tiger Range Countries.
3. It is the only park in Bhutan where largest populations of Bhutan Takin (Budorcas taxicolor whitei) thrive.
4. The only park where all the Bhutan's four National Symbols, tree; Cypress (Cupressus corneyana), flower; Blue Poppy (Meconopsis grandis), bird; Raven (Corvus corax) and animal; Takin (Budorcas taxicolor whitei) are found.
5. In addition, it is the only park in Bhutan where largest number of international tourists trek through the paradisiacal alpine meadows and snow-capped mountains.
6. Furthermore, it is Bhutan's only park with the largest number of hot springs and medicinal baths.
Jigme Dorji National Park is aptly called "the trekker's paradise" in Bhutan. It is popular for its magnificent landscapes and sceneries rendered by the serene alpine meadows adorned by beautiful flowers, majestic Himalayan mountain peaks, alpine lakes of varying colors, herds of blue sheep grazing in harmony with yaks, cascading rivers and waterfalls, and lush forest covers covered with clouds and mists. One can also witness the alpine yak herders gleefully cheering up the visitors as they sing melodious songs while herding their yaks.
Jigme Dorji National Park is the watershed for four major rivers in western Bhutan. It has four major ecosystems: warm broadleaf forest, cool broadleaf forest, mixed coniferous forest, and alpine meadows (rangelands). Each of the forest type provides unique livelihood for the people residing at various elevations, ranging from 1600 to 7100 meters above sea level. People living inside the park practice subsistence farming and they are pastoralists. For ages, they have lived in perfect harmony with nature. They extract all of their resources from the park, and protect the resources in return. This unique co-nature has fostered the prevalence of distinct dialects and cultures in the park. People of Laya have distinctive culture and dialect, much distinguishable from the people of Gasa who have their own unique culture and dialect. Likewise, people of Lunana are much separable from the people of Tamidamchu and Chhubu.
Very recently, the harmonious relationship between local people and natural environment is bolstered through the establishment of community-based natural resource program called Community Forestry in the park. Currently, there are about eight functional Community Forests in the park, and many more are in pipeline for receiving government's approval.
Jigme Dorji National Park provides a safe haven for many globally endangered and vulnerable species of flora and fauna. It is the only park in Bhutan where thriving numbers of tigers, snow leopards, musk deer, and Asiatic wild dog are found. It is also the only park in the world where the habitats of tigers are documented to overlap with the habitats of snow leopards. It is Bhutan's only national park where one can see the largest populations of Bhutan Takin, a unique goat-antelope species. Currently, more than 36 mammals, 5 reptiles, 39 butterflies, 328 birds, and 1450 vascular plants are recorded in the park, and the species numbers are still increasing with subsequent explorations.
Jigme Dorji National Park forms an integral part of the life of many Western Bhutanese. It provides tremendous ecosystem services to the people living both inside and outside the park, and without these ecosystem services, life would be almost impossible for the park residents and people living nearby in the buffer zones. At the lower courses of the four major rivers emanating from the park, major hydropower stations are built to supply electricity within the country and to sell outside the country for revenue generation. Therefore, it is vital that the park is protected and that its ecological integrity is well preserved. Hence, the park is fiercely guarded by a team of 50 dedicated staff who are provided with necessary arms and ammunitions to regularly patrol in and around the park. The park management is the process of zoning the park into core, multiple use, and buffer zones for optimum protection and sustainable utilization of resources.
JDNP could be similar to other natural heritage sites in the world as it offers wonderful destination for the international tourist and a big home for Royal Bengal Tiger.
It is the living example of co-existence of one of the most unique semi-nomadic culture in the world and rich biodiversity inside the same protected area.