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Singalila National Park – Red Panda and Rhododendron Conservation

singalila national park eating leaves in singalila

How is Singalila National Park preserving biodiversity

Nestled in the pristine Eastern Himalayas lies a gem of biodiversity conservation – Singalila National Park. This enchanting sanctuary, situated in the Indian state of West Bengal, boasts a rich tapestry of flora and fauna, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and conservationists alike. On the northern side, the Park is contiguous with the forests of Sikkim, while to the south, there are reserve forest corridors. If these are restored, the park would be connected to the Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary near Darjeeling town. On the western side, there is contiguity with the forests in Nepal, though the areas are very small.

Spanning over 78 square kilometers, Singalila National Park is renowned for its lush forests, alpine meadows, and towering peaks. However, what truly sets this park apart is its crucial role in the conservation of two iconic species – the elusive red panda and the vibrant rhododendron. Forest types include Wet Temperate Forests at altitudes 2,500-2,800 m which are dominated by Quercus sp; Moist Temperate Forests in the 2,850-3,600 m range which include species such as Quercus pachyphylla, Betula utilis, Castanopsis tribuloides, Tsuga brunniona, Rhododendron sp. and an understorey of bamboo; Subalpine Forests in the 3,000-3,650 m range which include species like Abies densa, Betula utilis and Rhododendron sp. The forests of Singhalila are reported to be floristically very rich.

Rhododendron (18 species), Magnolia, orchids, medicinal plants like Aconitum sp., Swertia chirata, Rheum sp., and Taxus baccata are some of the important plant species found in the Park. Besides, the forests have a variety of mosses, lichens, mushrooms, tree ferns, climbers and other epiphytic plants.

 

Red Pandas Conservation in Singalila National Park

The red panda, often dubbed as the “lesser panda or firefox,” is an emblematic species of the Eastern Himalayas. With its distinctive red fur and cat-like face, this charming creature captivates the hearts of all who encounter it. Singalila National Park provides a vital habitat for the red panda, offering dense bamboo forests and cool temperate climates that are essential for its survival. Through strict protection measures and habitat restoration efforts, the park plays a pivotal role in safeguarding this endangered species from the threats of habitat loss and poaching.

Singalila National Park, in partnership with Padmaja Naidu Zoological Park, is actively engaged in the conservation breeding and later re-introduction of the species in the wild. The conservation breeding of red pandas is conducted within a specialized facility in the zoological park. These pandas are later released into a fenced enclosure created within the national park to acclimatize them within their natural habitat. Once they successfully complete their time within the fenced enclosure, they are released into the wild with a radio collar attached. This collar aids the forest department in tracking their movement and activities. Cross-border cooperation for monitoring the red panda is necessary as the park shares an international border with Nepal and an internal border with Sikkim.

Do you know how many bear species exist in the wild? Read our blog on Different Species Of Pandas And Where To Find Them

 

red panda in sinalila national park

 

Rhododendrons Conservation in Singalila National Park

In addition to its role in red panda conservation, Singalila National Park is also a sanctuary for the majestic rhododendron. These vibrant flowering plants, known for their vivid hues ranging from fiery reds to delicate pinks, blanket the park’s slopes in a riot of color during the spring months. As climate change poses a growing threat to the survival of rhododendron species, the park serves as a refuge where these botanical treasures can thrive undisturbed.  Singalial National Park is home to 18 out of the 25 species of Rhododendron discovered by Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker in the Himalayas. The major species of are Rhododendron barbatum, R. dalhousiae, R. edgeworthii, R. griffithianum, R. fulgens, R. arboretum, and R. campanulatum.

 

Rhododendron plantation in singalila

 

Birds of Singalila National Park

The Singalila national park is an avian paradise and 400 species of birds has been reported from here so far. Singhalila National Park is renowned for its diverse array of bird species, particularly its pheasants which include the Satyr Tragopan, Black-backed Kaleej Pheasant, Blood Pheasant, Common Hill-partridge, and Chestnut or Red-breasted Hill-partridge. Additionally, the park is home to various other bird species such as parrotbills, warblers, sunbirds, nuthatches, thrushes, and raptors.

Explore Red Panda & Rhino Safari Tour in India

 

Other fauna of Singalila National Park

Singhalila National Park is home to a variety of other important mammal species, contributing to its rich biodiversity. Among these are the leopard, clouded leopard, Asiatic black bear, serow, barking deer, Chinese pangolin, Himalayan mouse-hare, as well as various rodents, bats, and potentially the wild dog or dhole. These mammals play integral roles in the park’s ecosystem, contributing to its balance and diversity. From the elusive leopards to the agile serows, the park offers a sanctuary for these fascinating creatures to thrive amidst the pristine Himalayan landscapes.

 

Black bear walking in the grass, Darjeeling, India

 

Tourism in Singalila National Park

Beyond its ecological significance, Singalila National Park offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the natural wonders of the Eastern Himalayas. Trekking trails meander through pristine forests, offering glimpses of rare bird species, including the colorful Himalayan Monal and the elusive Satyr Tragopan. At higher altitudes, adventurers are rewarded with panoramic views of the world’s highest peaks, including Mount Everest and Kanchenjunga.

Sandakphu, often hailed as the “trekker’s paradise,” is a mesmerizing destination nestled in the national park. At an altitude of 3,636 meters (11,929 feet), it is the highest peak in the state and offers breathtaking panoramic views of some of the world’s highest peaks, including Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, and Makalu. Trekking to Sandakphu is a popular adventure activity, attracting nature enthusiasts and adventurers from around the globe. The journey to this enchanting summit takes trekkers through dense rhododendron forests, charming mountain villages, and picturesque landscapes, offering a glimpse into the diverse flora and fauna of the region. The summit of Sandakphu is not only a feast for the eyes but also a serene retreat for those seeking solace amidst the grandeur of the Himalayas.

 

Threats & Conservation in Singalila National Park

Yet, amidst the awe-inspiring beauty of the park, there arises an urgent need for action. With human activities encroaching upon natural habitats and climate change endangering fragile ecosystems, conservation efforts have become imperative. Similar to many forested areas, the settlements around Singhalila rely heavily on forest resources for their survival. These communities, predominantly consisting of Nepalese and Sherpas, rely on the park for necessities like firewood, fodder, and occasionally timber for construction. Additionally, they gather edible plants such as mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and various herbs, including medicinal ones, to sustain their way of life. Most households within Singhalila National Park practice subsistence farming, cultivating crops like maize, potatoes, peas, and other vegetables.

Employment opportunities are scarce, with only a minority securing government positions, while others engage in wage labor and tourism-related activities. However, the villages often lack fundamental amenities like roads, electricity, clean water, healthcare, and education facilities. Despite these hardships, the communities surrounding Singhalila are actively involved in conservation endeavors. The Singhalila Environment Protection Committee, comprising members from Nepal and India, is dedicated to addressing the threats posed by unsustainable forest resource exploitation through collaborative efforts. Singhalila National Park serves as a symbol of optimism, highlighting the significant impact that committed conservation initiatives can make in preserving the Earth’s biodiversity.

In conclusion, Singalila National Park serves as a shining example of conservation in action. By protecting critical habitats and championing the cause of endangered species such as the red panda and rhododendron, the park embodies our collective responsibility to safeguard the natural world for future generations. As visitors tread lightly upon its trails, may they be inspired to join the ranks of conservationists dedicated to preserving Earth’s precious biodiversity. You may like to have a look at our Tigers, Leopards & Sloth Bear Tour of India.

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