Chitwan National Park

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Chitwan National Park

Chitwan National Park is the first national park in Nepal. Formerly called Royal Chitwan National Park it was established in 1973 and granted the status of a World Heritage Site in 1984. It covers an area of 932 km2 (360 sq mile) and is located in the subtropical Inner Terai Lowlands of south-central Nepal in the Chitwan District. In altitude it ranges from about 100 m (330 ft) in the river valleys to 815 m (2,674 ft) in the Churia Hills.

In the north and west of the protected area the Narayani – Rapti river system forms a natural boundary to human settlements. Adjacent to the east of Chitwan National Park is Parsha Wildlife Reserve, contiguous in the south is the Indian Tiger Reserve Valmiki National Park. The coherent protected area of 2,075 km2 (801 sq mile) represents the Tiger Conservation Unit (TCU) Chitwan-Parsa-Valmiki, which covers a 3,549 km2 (1,370 sq mile) huge block of alluvial grasslands and subtropical moist deciduous forests.

Chitwan National Park, formerly called Royal Chitwan National Park is the first national park in Nepal. Chitwan National Park stands as a successful testimony of nature conservation of South Asia. In 1950s, Chitwan’s forest and grasslands extended over more than 2600 sq km and was home to about 800 rhinos. Formerly, the Chitwan valley was well known for big game and was exclusively managed as a hunting reserve for the Rana Prime Ministers and their guests during the winter season until 1950 where they stayed for a couple of months shooting hundreds of tigers, rhinoceroses , leopards and sloth bears. . In 1963, the area south of Rapti was demarcated as a rhinoceros sanctuary. In 1970, His late Majesty King Mahendra had approved in principle the creation of Royal Chitwan National Park. The park consists of churia hills, ox-bow lakes, flood plains of Rapti, Reu and Narayani rivers. The Churia hill rises gradually towards the east from 150 m to over 800 m. The lower but most rugged Someshwor hills occupy most of the western portion of the park. The flood plains of Chitwan are rich alluvial. The park boundaries have been delineated by the Narayani and Rapti rivers in the north and west, and the Reu river and Someshwor hills in the south and south-west. It shares its eastern border with Parsa Wildlife Reserve. The park’s headquarter is located in Kasara. Close-by the Gharial and Turtle Conservation Breeding Centre have been established. In 2008 a Vulture breeding centre was inaugurated aiming at holding up to 25 pairs of each of the two Gyps vulture’s species now critically endangered in Nepal – the Oriental white-backed vulture and the slender-billed vulture.

The Chitwan valley consists of tropical and subtropical forests. Sal forests cover 70 percent of the park. Sal leaves are used locally for plates in festivals and religious offerings. Grasslands cover 20 percent of the park. There are more than 50 different types of grasses, including the elephant grass, renowned for its immense height. It can grow up to 8m in height. The park is home to more than 50 mammal species, over 525 birds, and 55 amphibians and reptiles. The endangered fauna found in the park are: One-horned rhinoceros, Gaur, Royal Bengal tiger, wild elephant, four horned antelope, Pangolin, Golden monitor lizard, Python, etc. Bengal florican, lesser florican, Giant hornbill, Black stork, While stork, etc.

Chitwan is only 150m above the sea level. The place gets steamy from March-June, with peak temperatures reaching 43°C in the shade. Short grass makes Feb-May the best game-viewing season, but the autumn months are gorgeous, with Himalayan views, and in winter (December-January), Chitwan is pleasantly warmed compared to Kathmandu. The monsoon season (July-August) is intense, with pounding rain, swollen rivers, and luxuriant vegetation. While the rain isn’t constant, the humidity is all pervasive. The flora and fauna of Chitwan makes it a great place for nature lovers. Chitwan has over 50 different species of mammals, 400 different species of birds, and 65 different types of butterflies in its hardwood Sal forests, revering vegetation, and “elephant grass” savannah. More than 70 different species of grass grow here.

The most famous wildlife in Chitwan is perhaps the single-horned Asian rhinoceros. A few decades ago, their number had fallen to less than 100, but recent count puts them at 400. These animals have thick armor like hide that is hard to penetrate even with a bullet. A fully grown animal can be as tall as 180cm. In spite of army protection for these animals and severe punishment for harming them, rhino poaching is still a problem as every organ of the animal carries some (probably superstitious) value. The horn fetches about US$10,000 per kg. and is believed to be an aphrodisiac. The dung can be a laxative; the urine cures tuberculosis and asthma. The blood can help cure menstrual problems. The hide keeps away evil spirits.

Chitwan has about 150 Bengal tigers left of the onetime 3000 or so. Though poaching is a serious threat, the real threat for these majestic animals is the gradual loss of its habitat. A male tiger requires almost 60km space, and a female one requires a third of it. Chitwan is simply not big enough to handle many tigers. It is rare for one to actually see a tiger; though looking for one is an interesting part of the trip. Other wild mammals one may see are leopards, various types of deer, monkeys, sloth bear, and antelope.

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