Chitwan National Park
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Nepal are most likely to be the mystical Himalayan mountains that stretch across its northern border, or the hectic capital Kathmandu where there is never a dull moment. You may be surprised to know that the dense jungle south of Kathmandu attracts thousands of visitors to Nepal every year, and for wildlife and nature lovers the Chitwan National Park offers a totally unique experience. It was the first national park to be established in Nepal, almost forty years ago in 1973. Back then it was the Royal Chitwan National Park, but even before then it was highly respected by the ruling class in Nepal. It was a favourite hunting ground for over a hundred years before it became a national park, and hunters would camp out in the jungle for months during the winter hoping to take home the prize of a rhinoceros or a tiger. Back then the area that is now Chitwan National Park was known as the ‘Heart of the Jungle,’ and there is in excess of 700 different species of wildlife living in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A Brief History:
At the start of the 50’s, the forest of Chitwan covered over 1,000 square miles, and over 800 rhinoceros lived in the area. Before it became a protected area, the forest was farmed extensively, and over the course of 20 years around 70 per cent of Chitwan’s renowned jungle was destroyed and the rhino population had plummeted to less than 100. Poaching was rampant, and by 1970 armed guards patrolled the Chitwan forest to protect the remaining rhinos. It was made into a national park soon afterwards, but the protected area was only a fifth of the original area the forest covered, at 210 square miles. Before long the park was enlarged to 360 square miles, at which it stands today, and the rhino population has recovered, albeit not to pre-1950 levels.
King Cobras and Bengal Tigers
The Chitwan National Park is a mixture of grasslands and forest, and it diversity make it a suitable home for all sorts of different animals. Reptiles, birds, insects, fish, and mammals have all made the park their home, and a tour of the park ensures that you will spot some of the world’s most magnificent creatures.
If snakes are your thing, then you are in luck, because the infamous King Cobra is a resident at the park, as is the powerful Rock Python. There are plenty of other species of snake to see too, and another reptile to keep your eye out for is the monitor lizard. The numerous waterways that make up the Narayani-Rapti river system are home to over 100 recorded species of fish, and also provide a perfect habitat for mugger crocodiles.
The big cats that roam the Chitwan jungle are often the most sought after when visitors are asked which animals they want to see most. The Bengal Tiger is certainly top of the list, but is often one of the most difficult animals to find. While there is thought to be in the region of 80 tigers living in the park, in 2012 researchers conducted a study that revealed the tigers were avoiding human contact by adapting to be nocturnal. You are much more likely to spot a leopard while touring the park, and other cats that you may see include the rare marbled cat among others.
Rhinos are the other big attraction for visitors to the park, and spotting these beasts is not so hard. With over 500 rhinos living in the park, guides usually know where to find them. Bird watchers are also big fans of the Chitwan National Park, and flock here annually to see if they can spot a new species living in the forest. Impressive birds like the Eastern Imperial Eagle and the White-throated Kingfisher can be seen, along with countless others.