Nearly 60% of Sikkim (4,187 sq. km) lies above 3000 meters and most of this is classified as Reserve Forests. This sub-alpine and alpine landscape of the Sikkim Himalaya locally referred to as Himal, has a unique ecosystem and comprises of 285 glaciers, 316 glacial lakes and ten mountain peaks that rise above 7000 meters. The Himal also forms the headwaters of important perennial rivers and conserving this water bank is essential for the survival of thousands of villagers who live at the lower elevations. Improved ecological health of this ecosystem translates to sufficient water in the streams even in the lean season, which sustains agricultural and horticulture crops, directly translating to food and health security of the villagers living down stream. It is a repository of unique, globally important wildlife like the snow leopard, Himalayan musk deer, Tibetan gazelle and the black-necked crane and also provides an ideal habitat for their survival. The Himal is also a repository of valuable medicinal plants, which form the basis for the indigenous systems of medicine. It also harbours important tourism destinations like Tsomgo (Changu), Nathu-la, Gurudongmar, Yumthang, Dzongri, Yambong, Maenam and Barsey. Most of the peaks, lakes, rivers and caves here are considered sacred and are visited by pilgrims to pay homage.
Though most of lower and middle hill forests have been brought under the Joint Forest Management (JFMC/EDC) network, the upper hill forests of the Himalayas, inspite of determined efforts, still continue to be under inadequate management, beset with threats and need urgent interventions. The main threats being unregulated grazing, unplanned trekking tourism, hunting and trapping of wild animals, smuggling of medicinal and aromatic plants, global warming and lack of awareness amongst the security forces. Effective conservation of the Himal by forest staff alone is very difficult due to its high altitude, remoteness, tough terrain, harsh climate and limited resources available. Further lack of adequate infrastructure and facilities make every patrolling visit more like an expedition, with a large contingent of support staff and resultant high attendant costs.
Hence it was decided to enlist the support of the villagers, practicing traditional subsistence livelihoods in the high altitudes of the Himalayas, in conservation management. Such villagers, who are willing, were to be recognized as Himal Rakshaks (honorary mountain guardians) and their capacity building done. This would result in a more effective, participatory “on ground” conservation of the Himal jointly with the Forest Department. Since it is their traditional livelihoods which compel the Himal Rakshaks to access the Himal, these livelihoods will be permitted in a regulated manner, provided they
perform their duties and responsibilities.
The main duty and responsibility of a Himal Rakshak is to assist whole heartedly in wildlife conservation work with regard to the following matters:
a. Control of poaching and clandestine trade in wild animals and products / articles thereof
b. Detection of offences under the Wildlife (Protection) Act and the rules made thereunder.
c. Preventing damage to the habitat of wildlife
d. Preventing smuggling of medicinal and aromatic plants for trade
e. Preventing instances of bio-piracy by tourists and others
f. Reducing the negative impacts from unplanned trekking tourism
g. Carrying the message of conservation to the people and enlisting their public support for nature and wildlife conservation
h. Carrying our biological surveys and monitoring
i. Render assistance to the forest personnel during their visits to the Himal
j. Any other matter related with the conservation of wildlife, which may be entrusted by the concerned Divisional Forest Officer.
Click Here To View: List of Himal Rakshak