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Flora and Fauna of Sikkim

Due to the altitude that varies from sea level to summits that touch the skies, the flora and fauna naturally covers a wide spectrum. Nowhere in the world in such a small area can one find flora and fauna of all varieties - Tropical to the Alpines. Sikkim's botanical and zoological richness is awe-inspiring, boasting of more than 4000 species of plants and 30% of all the birds found in the Indian sub-continent. No wonder Sikkim has been a dream of naturalists. Dr. J.D. Hooker during the middle of the last century surveyed in detail the botanical wealth in Sikkim and his findings were embodied in the 'Himalayan Journal'.

Sikkim can be basically divided into three zones. The tropical from almost sea level to about 5000 feet, the temperate from 5000 to 11,000 feet and the alpine above 11,000 feet. Till 10,000 feet, there are terraced farmlands in which the Rice, Maize, Barley and Millet are grown. Cardamoms, Oranges, Apples, Potatoes and Ginger are grown in abundance in the state. The lower altitudes towards the south harbour jungle cats, Mongoose, House sparrows etc. The jungles in the south, are teeming with plantains, Bamboos, Tree Ferns, Walnut, Sal and Oak. Orchids also abound in areas with moderate altitudes. They are the pride of Sikkim and there are about 600 species. They come in a wide variety of colours and sizes. The most popular orchids of Sikkim are Cymbidiums, Vanda, Cattaleya, Hookeriana, Farmeri, Dendrobium Amoenum. The Nobile Orchid has been declared as the State Flower of Sikkim.

In the temperate zone, the flora consist of Oak, Chestnut, Maple, Birch, Alder, Magnolia and Silver Fir. In the arid cold alpine regions of Sikkim, roam the snow leopard and wild ass. There are about 35 species of Rhododendrons in Sikkim and are found above the height of 10,000 feet. The Rhododendron Nivale grows barely a few inches above the ground. When Rhododendron flower between the month of April and May, it is a sight to behold with hillsides becoming shrouded in colour. The Rhododendron niveum has been declared as the State Tree of Sikkim. At the treeless altitudes above 14,000 feet curious types of flowers in colours of blue, red, violet blossom during summers just a few inches above the ground. The stones and rocks also get coloured by lichens and mosses in amorphous pattern.

The diversity in the plant world is complemented by a similar variety in the animal kingdom. Amongst the mammals of Sikkim are the rare Snow Leopard, Himalayan Black Bear, Red panda, Musk Deer, Blue Sheep, Shapi, Common Langur, Leopard Cat, and the Flying Squirrel.

Shapi is a rare animal that inhabits the alpine region. It was discovered only in 1938 by a German doctor Ernest Schalfer. The Shapi has the size of a mountain goat and has a long white mane. The Shapi is an endangered animal which is on the verge of becoming extinct.

Red Panda
Among the more exotic mammals is the Red Panda which lives mostly on treetops. It is found at altitudes ranging from 6,000 to 12,000 feet. It has been declared as the State Animal of Sikkim. It is about 2 feet in length when full grown and belongs to the racoon family. It feeds mostly on bamboo leaves.

Himalayan Bear
These are found roaming in the temperate forest of Sikkim. They feed on corn, wild plants, honey and can sometime grow to enormous sizes.   

Snow Leopard
The snow leopard is an almost mythical animal. It has rarely been sighted and to date, only two field zoologists have succeeded in photographing this elusive animal in its habitat which can vary from 5,000 feet to as high as 18,000 feet.

Among the more commonly found animals in the alpine zone are yaks. Yaks belong to the cattle family and can survive only at altitudes above 10000 feet. They survive on alpine shrubs and can go without food for days together. Due to the long and thick hair that grows on its flanks, legs and tail and its thick hide, yaks can comfortably sleep and rest in the snow. Yaks forage on their own and do not require grooming, stabling and care as required by other domesticated animals. Yaks have been domesticated in Sikkim and are used as beasts of burden as well as for their meat and milk which though produced in small quantities is very thick. Yak milk is extensively used for preparing Churpi which is hardened cheese. The hide and hair is used for making crude canvas, tents, carpets and blankets. Crossbreeds of yaks with cows are known as Dzo’s and these can survive at lower altitudes and are extensively used as pack animals for trekking and expedition in both lower and higher altitudes. 

Over 400 varieties of butterflies and moths adorn the forest with colour and life. Giant Lammergeier Vultures, Bearded Vulture, Eagle, Whistling Thursh, Minivet, Bulbul and Pheasant are some from among the 550 species of birds recorded in Sikkim, some of which have been declared endangered. Some other coloured birds are the emeral dove, fairy blue bird, kingfisher, ashy woodpecker, sultan tit and the emerald cuckoo. Many migratory birds like the Ruddy Shelduck also visit Sikkim. There are also a wide variety of pheasants in various colours. Blood Pheasant is declared as the State Bird of Sikkim. Various types of fishes are also found in the lakes and rivers of Sikkim. There are 45 species of fish in sikkim which include the trout, salmon and carp. Fishing is allowed with a permit. There are 40 species of reptiles which include various types of lizards, snakes, krait and cobra.


Sl. No. Name District Area (Hectares)
1 Biosphere Reserve North, South, West 200,000
2 Kanchendzonga National Park North Sikkim 178,400
3 Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary West Sikkim 10,400
4 FabongLho Wildlife East Sikkim 5,176
5 Shingba Rhododendron Sanctuary North Sikkim 4,300
6 Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary South Sikkim 3,534
7 Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary East Sikkim 3,100



Flora and Fauna No. of Species Principal Endangered Species
Mammals 150 Bharal, Clouded leopard, Fishing Cat, Golden Cat, Himalayan Tahr, Leopard Cat, Lesser or Red Panda, Marbled Cat, Musk Deer, Nayan or Great Tibetan Sheep, Pangolin, Snow leopard, Spotted Lingsang, Tibetan Fox, Tibetan Gazelle, Tibetan Wild Ass, Tiger, Tibetan Wolf.
Birds 552 Blacknecked Crane (Migratory), Blood Pheasant Lammergeier, Large Falcon, Monal Pheasant, Peafowl, Tibetan Show Cock, Tragopan Pheasant, Snow Partridge.
Butterflies & Moth 590 Most of the butterflies and moths found in Sikkim are endangered species
Orchids 556 Sikkim's orchids are world-famous as the state has 556 species of them. The colours range from the richest to the palest in species as varied as Cymbidiums, Vandas, Cattlelyas, Dendrobiums, Hooheriana, Farmeri and Amoneum.
Rhododendrons 40 From the giant Rhododendron Crande [over 40ft] to the Rhododendron Nivale(a few-inches off the ground), and from the blood red to pale white. The delicate but hardy Primula are found at heights of 12,000 ft. and above. The Himalayan rhubarb is a unique feature of this area, standing upright like candles in the arid vast.
Flowering Plant 4500  
Ferns & Fern allies 362  
Tree Ferns 8  
Medicinal plants 424  
Oaks 11  
Conifers 16  
Bamboos 23  
Fish 48  

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