Nepal’s Chitwan National Park found its calling as a hunting ground for the country’s royal rulers. These days, the more than 900 square kilometers of tropical forest, grasslands, lakes and rivers is more animal friendly, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
As home to the world’s biggest and smallest land mammals (elephant and pygmy shrew), there’s a huge variety of sights for nature lovers. Here are 5 of our favourite.
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1. One-horned rhino
Commonly found in South and South East Asia, the one-horned rhino faced near extinction when the Chitwan National Park opened up for settlement, leading to poaching and diminished habitat. After government interventions and conservation efforts, there are now roughly 600 one-horned rhinos in the park. This endangered species can be found in the grasslands and the Sal forests in the park, and can be seen bathing and drinking water along the Rapti River at dawn.
2. Royal Bengal tiger
Though steps are being taken to double the population of Royal Bengal tigers by the end of 2020, there are only around 200 of these solitary big cats in the park today, making them extremely tough to spot. Plus, tigers are nocturnal and most mobile at night when they’re hunting, and the National Park closes at night. Still, they can be spotted during the day, if you’re lucky, mostly sleeping.
3. Clouded leopard
The clouded leopard is a wild cat originally from the Himalayan foothills around Southeast Asia and southern China. Listed as ‘vulnerable species’ on the IUCN Red List, the total population is suspected to be fewer than 10,000, and sadly decreasing due to lack of habitat. Nocturnal as well, they are hard to spot in the Chitwan National Park, however they do tend to sleep in trees so keep your binoculars ready.
The female elephants in Chitwan National Park are usually domesticated, and are used to help scare off poachers during patrols deep inside the jungle where vehicles can’t reach. During mating season, wild bull elephants head to the various compounds to mate with the females before heading back to the jungle. It’s rare to spot a wild elephant but there are countless elephant sanctuaries and private tours that provide activities such as walking with elephants, elephant bathing, and even making snacks for the elephants.
Gaurs, or Indian bison, spend most of the year in the less accessible areas in the south of the park. But when the bush fires ease off in spring and lush grasses start growing, they descend to the grasslands to graze. Chitwan’s population of gaur – the world’s largest wild cattle species – increased from 188 to 368 animals from 1997 to 2016.