INTO THE AMAZON FORESTS OF BHUTAN : Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary


Two months with WWF-Bhutan office in Thimphu and I am headed to Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary also known as the amazon forests of Bhutan. It is the country’s smallest national park located along the southern borders in Sarpang Dzongkhag. At the heart of the park is a vast grassland – a thriving home to tropical species of elephants, spotted deer, guars, and golden langur, among others.


As we drive from Sarpang to Singye Gewog, we are on a long narrow road, meandering through thick forest cover, past swollen streams, and endless expanse of paddy fields prepared for plantation. Singye Gewog is about one hour drive from Sarpang, the district administration center. It is the last gewog before we reach Phibsoo.

It is a busy season for the people in Singye. With only a few weeks left for paddy cultivation season to end, the agrarian folks here are racing against time – working in scorching sun and erratic heavy showers.

After a short break at the Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary Park office in Singye Gewog, a group of rangers from the Park office join our team in our car. Four of us from WWF-Bhutan – Kezang Yangden, J.P Denruyter, solar engineer from Belgium, Ata driver, and I – are on an official tour to oversee the installation of rooftop solar at the Phibsoo outpost. My job is to record the whole process of the rooftop solar project. Powered by diesel generator, the foresters working at Phibsoo Outpost had access to only one hour of electricity in a day. The solar project would provide an alternative, ending their woes.

The rangers split in two groups. One of them instructs our driver, Ata Chening, to keep a 10-meter gap between the escort vehicle in the front and our vehicle, tailing behind. Fear and apprehension fill my head, buzzing like the constant noise of cicadas that fills the air as we start descending from Singye, the journey leading us into deep forests. An unsettling breeze begins.

We cross a few rural houses along the way for the first 20 minutes, and then we drive on a winding narrow road. Cemeteries of guards who lost their lives on duty pass by in a blur.

The drive into the thick forest cover, home to jumbos and venomous reptiles, tricks your mind to imagine unexpected, ill-fated events – a sudden ambush or attack by wildlife, or huge tree branches crashing on the car. The mind is a devil’s workshop! Some stretches of the road leading to Phibsoo are covered with debris left by monsoon floods while others have been washed away. It isn’t a smooth drive.

A forester in our car shares his experience of patrolling the sanctuary – stories of them facing sudden attacks from poachers, a professional hazard they live with it. The escort vehicle ahead of us frequently stops to remove the fallen branches that block the road.

“It was a nightmare to travel this road earlier. The situation has improved by manifolds,” says Kuenley Gyeltshen, a senior forester at the park office. “We take turns to be at the outpost. It is challenging to work at the Phibsoo Outpost.”

We silently agree.

After almost three hours of drive under the canopies of towering trees and the smell of exotic plant species wafting in the air, we arrive at a vast grassland just as the sun is about to set. Long layers of foothills gradually rise from the plains to form a range against the horizon far away. As we look back, a long narrow hill has locked us inside the park, away from the hustle and bustle of civilization. Here, there is no sound of traffic. No mobile network either. We are in the heart of the wilderness – Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary.

Rangers of Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary

“Do you see a cluster of small houses at the end of this plain? That is our camp, our Phibsoo Outpost,” says Kuenley Gyeltshen.

The sight of the camp – our home for the next two weeks – comforts my eyes and lightens my soul. It has been a long perilous ride. As we drive closer to the camp, a large mob of deer walks out of the grasslands. This is my first wildlife sighting at the Sanctuary.

Surprisingly, the deer aren’t startled by the oncoming motor vehicle. They are used to seeing patrol cars driving around. Perhaps, they know who the guardians of the forests are.

The sky turns dark as we enter our respective rooms. Each room is named after an emblematic species such as Tiger and Golden Langur – the paper nameplates almost falling apart.


Phibsoo Outpost is not yet connected with electricity. The foresters and officials on duty depend on diesel generator for electricity and to charge their field equipment. They are allotted an hour in the evening before the power is switched off.

Located at 65m to 67m above sea level, the temperature in Phibsoo hovers above 36 degree Celsius during summer. To beat the tropical heat, foresters at the outpost carry their beddings out on the concrete floor and sleep by the doorstep, in the soothing balm of midnight breeze.

Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary plays a vital role in conservation and as a critical source of perennial and seasonal water for the settlements in Assam Duars, south of the Bhutanese borders. The Sanctuary is the only natural Sal forests and habitat of spotted deer in Bhutan. It is also a home to globally threatened golden langur, the Bengal tiger, white-bellied heron, rare and valuable agar trees, and the majestic rufous-necked hornbill.

Despite our busy schedule, we took out time to go bird watching and get a glimpse of the endemic species of Phibsoo – the spotted deer, and if luck would have it, capture a few videos of this elegant animal. As a beginner in wildlife photography, I had but little success.

Phibsoo is a birder’s paradise. The Sanctuary has recorded seven new bird species in the past five years. Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, Brown Fish Owl, Isabeline Shrike, Pin-tailed Parrotfinch, Indian Spot bellied Duck, Short-tailed Shearwater and White-Cheeked Partridge are among the first birds recorded from Phibsoo in the country.

Four different species of Hornbill are found in Phibsoo today. The majestic flights of Hornbill, its loud squawking reverberating in the air, are occasional scenes to enjoy as you sit by the banks of the river flowing down to the plains of Assam.


There is no time for us to waste, or rest. Our solar engineer from Belgium has other plans scheduled, and we get to work on day one. Despite some hiccups due to Covid-19 restrictions, the contractors manage to deliver the rooftop solar parts and equipment to the site on time.

We begin testing the equipment and its power consumption the same evening in the dark. The generator is turned on – its roaring sound filling the air. Foresters and other officials with technical guidance from J.P Denruyter complete setting up the battery racks and panels in lightning speed.

And finally, the 10.8kw hybrid solar infrastructure, enough to light the entire outpost, is ready. This would not only reduce fuel consumption but also provide continuous supply of electricity to this remote camp of foresters – the guardians of this wildlife sanctuary.

This project is supported by WWF to promote use of climate friendly infrastructure that contributes significantly towards reducing carbon footprints. Today, about 50 foresters at the outpost have access to 18 hours of clean energy every day.

As the project comes to an end, we embark on a short tour of the park. The sweltering summer heat is fast drying up the water holes in Phibsoo, an important source of water for the wildlife in the park. The Park officials are exploring means to retain water for the wildlife.

Towards the evening, as we rest on the banks of Long Ga river, a herd of elephant emerges out of the forest far ahead of us. We watch the majestic elephants trudge slowly and disappear in the distant forest.

We decide to return to our camp. On our way back, just as the evening sun hides behind the clouds in the horizon, we encounter a family of three elephants – barely a few meters away. It is indeed a very close encounter but a memorable one to end what has been a fulfilling and adventurous trip.


He is a Communications Officer at WWF-Bhutan. He worked as Reporter with Kuensel, Bhutan’s national newspaper – where he reported extensively on local governance, climate change, environment, cross-border trade, and sports for more than five years. He enjoys writing, reading, and hiking.