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Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the eastern most part of the country in Trashigang Dzongkhag. It encompasses a total area of 740.60 square kilometer covering almost three fourth of Merak and Sakteng geogs under Trashigang Dzongkhag and part of Lauri geog under Samdrupjonkhar Dzongkhag. To retain floral and faunal diversity, the Sanctuary is well connected by Biological Corridor to the southern part of the country which is a part of the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex (B2C2). The Sanctuary is situated in the remotest part of the country where only limited developmental programmes have been implemented in the two geogs so far. Highlanders living in the park area are semi-nomadic and use large areas as grazing land for their cattle. Livestock rearing is the main socio-economy of Merak and Sakteng where 83% of the household income is generated from livestock husbandry. Very few people living in the lower areas depend on subsistence farming.
The floral diversity of SWS comprises a wide range of ecosystem comprising of different forest types within an altitude ranging from 1700-4100 masl. It represents diversity of eastern Himalayan terrestrial eco-system-alpine meadows, temperate forest and warm broadleaf forest.
Out of the total 46 species of Rhododendrons in the country, the Sanctuary has 35 species of Rhododendrons growing in the wild and is popularly known as the "Paradise of Rhododendrons" in the country which is very much similar to the Garden of Eden in the west. The forest contains 203 tree species including herbs, shrubs, and small trees. The Sanctuary is also famous for faunal diversity harbouring globally threatened and endangered species like the Red panda, Himalayan serow, Wild dog, Goral, Common leopard, Capped langur, Himalayan black bear, Musk deer and Jungle cat to name a few. There are 20 species of mammal species and 147 species of bird species.
1. Co-existence of one of the most unique semi-nomadic culture in the world and rich biodiversity conservation enclaved together in the same protected area.
2. Harbours 35 species of Rhododendrons in the wild out of the total of 46 species in the country and popularly known as "Paradise of Rhododendrons" in the country (highest diversity of Rhododendrons growing in the wild found in the Sanctuary).
In an age when most Bhutanese have opened themselves to the outside world through cyberspace, here the semi-nomads, popularly called as Brokpas seem to have frozen in time as they continue to live and practice age old customs and traditions in much the same way as their ancestors did with very little external influence. Their main source of livelihood is yak rearing for the higher altitude and subsistence farming for lower altitude. For most part of the year, they lead a semi-nomadic existence, following their cattle to fresh pastureland in the south during the harsh winter months and retreating to their homes when conditions are more bearable. The dwellings are usually single-roomed huts of stone walls and wooden planks that serve multiple purposes including kitchen, bedroom, workplace and store-room all in one- much like a studio apartment in big cities in the west.
The Brokpas, despite their simple existence, have their own distinct language, dress, culture and tradition. They speak a dialect known as Brokpake, distinct from other local and regional dialects in the country. Made of natural animal products, their dress is also unique in design. Women wear short poncho-like dresses with a top that resembles a jacket while men wear tunics and leggings made of wool with a vest made of leather. Both man and women complete the ensemble with a hat made of yak felt that has long twisted tufts hanging down the four edges.
The Brokpas continue to practice polyandry - a practical arrangement that has served the family's purpose of farming and cattle herding well. The annual festival of Merak and Sakteng is marked by ballads and songs and mask dances as performed in other parts of the country with the ‘Achey Lhamo' or yeti dance being the most prominent.
Against a backdrop of clear blue skies and a panaromic alpine landscape, yet pristine, lie two of Bhutan's most remote villages, Merak and Sakteng, inhabited by people known as Brokpas. With a population of about 6000, these tribal villages lie between Trashigang, their nearest town district headquarters, and India's Arunachal Pradesh with which they share a porous border.
35 species of Rhododendron out of the total of 46 species found in the country are found growing in the wild in the Sanctuary. The national flower, the Blue Poppy (Meconopsis grandis) along with Primula spp and Gentiana spp are also found in abundance in the alpine pastures. The highlands of Merak and Sakteng are also home to Chinese caterpillar (Cordyceps sinensis); a species of high medicinal value. Besides floral beauty, charismatic and endangered species such as the Snow leopard (Uncia uncia), Himalayan black bear (Ursus thibetanus), Himalayan Musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster), and Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) have found their home here. The locals even boast of the much debated and mythical Yeti (abominable snowman).
Commonly sighted bird species in the area are Himalayan Blood Pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus), Grey backed shrike (Lanius tephronotus), Grey headed woodpecker (Picus canus), Common hoopoe (Upupa epops), Rufous vented tit (Periparus rubidiventris) and dark breasted rose finch (Carpodacus nipalensis).
The Sanctuary is managed as per the prescriptions in the Scientific Conservation Management Plan which aims to balance biodiversity conservation with the development aspirations and needs of the semi-nomads.
Can be similar with other cultural landscapes in the world but the main reason that make the property stand out is the co-existence of one of the most unique semi-nomadic culture in the world and rich biodiversity inside the same protected area. At the same it has the highest diversity of Rhododendrons in the country in comparison to other protected areas in the country (35 species of Rhododendrons out of the total of 46 species in the country found in the wild).