Conservation of the Tibetan Highland Sheep by Kalden Singh Bhutia, Sikkim


The Trans-Himalayan ecoregion, with its characteristic cold desert vegetation in North Sikkim, serves as the natural habitat for the Tibetan Highland Sheep, which is locally referred to as ‘Luk’ or ‘Bhyanglung’. Luk is known for medicinal properties in its meat, milk and its products, which is attributed to its grazing on a wide variety of medicinal plants in the Himalayan landscape. The fleece obtained from the breed is counted as among the best obtained from native bovine breeds of the Indian subcontinent. Luk shares its habitat with the yak and these are one of the limited sources of livelihood for the nomadic pastoralists, the ‘Drokpas’, in the region.

Need for the Initiative

Despite its contribution to livelihood under harsh ecological conditions, this unique breed of sheep has been reduced to one last herd in the region. The major threats include; increasing number of feral dogs, winter fodder scarcity, border security issues and the new pressures imposed by tourism in its vulnerable habitat. The same has been highlighted in the Sikkim Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan in the year 2002. Kalden Singh Bhutia from Thangu village in North Sikkim is the only surviving herdsman amongst his clan, who owns about 225 Tibetan Highland Sheep. He began shepherding at the early age of 13 and has been conserving the sheep for more than 40 years, guiding them from one pasture to another under the harsh climatic conditions, while alternating between the cold desert and the alpine pastures. He has a rich repository of traditional knowledge in shepherding of the highland sheep, which he has inherited from his forefathers.

Conservation Initiatives and Impact

Inspired by his ancestral heritage, Mr. Bhutia took various initiatives to conserve and propagate the sheep. He facilitated the construction of a sheep farm that accommodates 550 sheep, for quality production of lambs and their distribution for breeding, with support from the Animal Husbandry Livestock Fisheries and Veterinary Services Department (AHLF & VSD). Three hay godowns were also constructed by AHLF & VSD. Kalden Singh has conducted mass awareness programmes regarding the value of the sheep and need for its conservation, through the press and social media. He has assisted in documentation of the sheep’s genetic characteristics in collaboration with ICAR-National Bureau of Animal and Genetic Resources (NBAGR), who feted him with the Breed Conservation Award in the year 2017. Thereafter, a scheme for compensation on death of a sheep by falling prey to the feral dogs, has been introduced. In order to curb the growing menace of feral dog attacks on the sheep and lambs, a mass sterilizing project was implemented in the region, which has significantly reduced the population of free ranging dogs in cold desert as well as on alpine pastures. Several Sheep Pens are under construction at Phalung in Lashar Valley and Yumtso in the Cold Desert, along with the ongoing project for strengthening the sheep enclosures, along its migratory route under the Border Area Development Project (BADP), commenced by the Government of India. ICAR Sikkim Centre now conducts periodic animal health camps in order to check diseases and ensure optimum reproductive performance of the breed. It distributed medicines and feed supplements to reduce mortality by overcoming winter fodder scarcity on both the alpine pasture and in cold deserts.

Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards

Kalden Singh Bhutia won the India Biodiversity Award under the category ‘Conservation of Domesticated Species’ in 2018.


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