Royal Chitwan National Park
Royal Chitwan National Park and U.N. World Heritage Site in the subtropical lowlands (Terai) of south-central Nepal was a favorite hunting ground of Nepalese royalty—for good reason. A single famous hunt to entertain the British viceroy left dead 120 tigers, 38 rhinos, 27 leopards, and 15 sloth bears. Mahouts—here called phanits—rode hundreds of elephants (on one occasion 975) to herd animals toward shooters.
But such massacres may not have damaged wildlife as much as massive spraying of the pesticide DDT to eradicate malaria, which caused humans to move in and destroy valley habitat to create farmland. In 10 years more than half the forest was gone and with it the animals that lived there. By 1973, when the park, Nepal’s first, was established, only an estimated 20 tigers and 100 rhinos were left in the 859 square miles (2,240 km2) of forested hills, grasslands, oxbow lakes, and three river floodplains that is now Chitwan and its adjoining buffer, Parsa Wildlife Reserve.
With protection, wild populations have gradually returned. Chitwan is now renowned for its rich and varied biota which includes a large population of endangered, prehistoric-looking onehorned rhinoceros as well as magnificent Bengal tigers, shaggy sloth bears, and such rare and endangered birds as flashy-winged Bengal floricans, giant hornbills, black storks—altogether more than 450 avian species, more than 50 mammals, more than 45 reptiles and amphibians including green pit vipers and cobras, and 200 kinds of butterflies.
Dense concentrations of two endangered species of crocodiles are in the Narayani River and lakes here, some 70 rare marsh muggers and 150 gharials (muggers are the ones with blunt noses and yellow teeth in the lakes; swift, fish-eating gharials, up to 16 feet (5 m) long with slender noses, usually are in rivers).
Water sources are centers of wildlife activity. Smooth Indian otters fish and play on banks. Indian pythons up to 20 feet (6 m) long wait nearby for hog deer and can consume one weighing up to 45 pounds (20 kg) in a single prolonged gulp. These (understandably) nervous little deer and their cousins, muntjac or barking deer, are favorite prey also for tigers, of which Chitwan has an estimated 100, including about 40 breeding pairs. Dainty spotted chitals, called the world’s most beautiful deer, graze the riverine grasslands, along with Asia’s largest deer, the sambars. Rhinos spend almost all their time there.
There are also rare armored pangolins, four-horned antelopes, freshwater Gangetic dolphins, striped hyenas, huge monitor lizards, and gaur, world’s largest wild oxen standing up to six feet (1.8 m) at the shoulder and weighing up to a ton (1,000 kg). Seldom seen but present are wild dogs, jungle cats, leopard cats, and fishing cats. Also here are a few wild buffalo and irascible sloth bears whose unpredictable temperaments make them reputedly Chitwan’s most dangerous animal.
Resplendent peacocks strut and wail and handsome jungle fowl crow to announce dawn. Storks, herons, and egrets feed on aquatic vegetation. Parakeets and green pigeons flock to fruiting trees.
Red-billed blue magpies scavenge at tiger kills. Jungle mynas ride rhinos’ backs, flying up for insects disturbed by the clumsy giants’ crashing through vegetation. Overhead, crested serpent eagles twist and turn in springtime courtship acrobatics. Jungle owlets rest in forest trees in daytime, hunt at night. Brown hawk-owls call loudly at night, and nightjars and cuckoos fill April dusk with courtship song.
Leopards’ favored victims are gray langur monkeys trooping through the sal forest, and rhesus macaques, elsewhere bold hangers-on at temples and rail stations but here, like much of Chitwan’s wildlife, shy and elusive.
Recently the Nepalese government, along with World Wide Fund for Nature and several other national and international agencies, have begun developing a project called Terai Arc, aimed at restoring degraded forests outside parks in lowland Terai from Chitwan to Suklaphanta to create habitat for tigers, rhinos, and elephants.
Best times are November–April.
ALSO OF INTEREST
Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, a 68-square-mile (175-km2) reserve on the beautiful Ganges tributary floodplain of Sapt Kosi in eastern Nepal, home to Nepal’s last wild buffalo, also several deer species and 280 kinds of birds.
Sagarmantha National Park northeast of Kathmandu along the Tibetan border, a U.N World Heritage Site covering 480 square miles (1,243 km2), all above 9,848 feet (3,000 m) altitude including Mount Everest, with red pandas, musk deer, Himalayan tahr, black bears, wolves, snow leopards, and fascinating birdlife, including impeyan or monal pheasants, Himalayan griffons,choughs, and snow pigeons. Accessible on foot only.
Makalu-Barun National Park, inaugurated in 1992, adjacent to Sagarmantha and, in the north, to the newly established 13,500-square-mile (35,000 km2) Qomolangma Nature Preserve in Tibet. Ecological zones range from subtropical forest to arctic snows of the Himalayas, and some of the last pristine mountain landscapes in Nepal.
Annapurna Conservation Area includes the famous Annapurna peaks. The Annapurna Conservation Area Project, a land trust, has begun exemplary work combining conservation with tourism and human population needs.
Langtang National Park, nearest national park to Kathmandu, has red pandas, muntjac, muskdeer, black bear, ghorial, and serows (antelopes), snow leopards, and langur and rhesus monkeys.
Shey Phoksundo National Park is Nepal’s largest park, 1,372 square miles (3,555 km2) billed as “a dangerous 14-day trek from Pokhara”, with ghorial, tahr, Tibetan hares, Himalayan weasels, blue sheep, snow leopards.
Rara National Park surrounds beautiful Rara Lake, largest in Nepal, important waterbird habitat. A four-day walk from the Jumla airstrip.
Royal Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve is a last stronghold for endangered swamp deer. Also here: tigers, elephants.
Kanchenjunga Conservation Area, named after the third-highest mountain in the world, has good populations of snow leopards, blue sheep, wolves, and red pandas. Kanchenjunga Mountain straddles Nepal, Sikkim, and Tibet.
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ROYAL CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK as well as...
Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
Sagarmantha National Park
Makalu-Barun National Park
Qomolangma Nature Preserve
Annapurna Conservation Area
Langtang National Park
Shey Phoksundo National Park
Rara National Park
Royal Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve
Kanchenjunga Conservation Area