Tradition: Bumthang was once famed for woollen products. That was when the people in the dzongkhag reared sheep in large numbers. Today, though, only a few households in Chokhor and Chumey and a few other villages like Zhurey, Bhim, Chungphel and Dhur own sheep.

The Jakar type is among the four native breeds of sheep in Bhutan besides Sakteng, Sibsoo and Sarpang. With increasing attack by wild animals, the tradition of rearing sheep is slowly waning. Also, children are sent to school and there is no one to tend to the flocks.

Samten Choden from Zhurey has only six sheep. Were it not for attacks by wild animals, she would by now have about 20 sheep. Probably even more. “There was a time when people in the villages owned a flock of more than 60 sheep.”

From Zhurey too, 56-year old Kinga Tshomo has the highest number of sheep – 20. Bears and feral dogs are problems, she said.  “At one point of time, I gave away a sheep each to my neighbours because they’d lost them all.”

The coming of roads in the villages is to blame, said Kinga Wangmo. Dogs followed. Now they are a menace, killing sheep every now and then.  “These days, we barely have enough wool to produce traditional fabrics.”

Also, it has become difficult for the farmers to procure dye. That, Kinga Wangmo, said is probably why not a lot of people weave the renowned Bumthang mathra.

Thinley Dema , 19, from Bhim said National Biodiversity Centre (NBC) has established a group called Chumey-Chokhor Lug Sochong Tshogpa. She is the group’s chairperson.

“We depend on sheep for our livelihood. But it is increasingly becoming difficult,” said Thinley Dema. Thinley owns about 53 sheep. She thinks that the government should intervene with sustainable initiatives.

Sonam Wangmo, 46, from Bhim too, said she had 40 sheep a few years ago. Now, though, she is left with only 19. She is worried about the increasing number of feral dogs in the village.

There is the National Sheep Breeding Centre at Dungmithang still, but the Wobthang Sheep Farm had to be closed down because farmers had long stopped rearing sheep.

Bumthang’s officiating assistant livestock officer, Jambay Dorji, said that Chokhor has the highest number of sheep. “Sheep in Chumey are cross breed. Those in Chokhor are local.”

People of Tang and Ura stopped rearing sheep since 2012.

Nima Wangdi | Zhurey