Chitwan National Park Tour Overview
Chitwan National Park (‘Chitwan’ means “in the heart of the jungle’) covers 932 sq. km. in the flat lowland region of southern Nepal. It is one of the most important sub-tropical parks on the Indian subcontinent with populations of more than 43 species of mammals in the park.
The park is especially renowned for its protection of the endangered one- horned rhinoceros, tiger, and gharial crocodile along with many other common species of wild animal. The estimated population of rhinos is 400. The park also secures populations of endangered species such as gaur, wild elephant, four horned antelope, striped hyena, pangolin, Gangetic dolphin, monitor lizard, and python. Some of the other animals found in the park are sambar, chital, hog deer, barking deer, sloth deer, common leopard, ratel, palm civet, wild dog, langur and rhesus monkeys. There are over 450 species of birds in the park. Among the endangered birds are the Bengal florican, giant hornbill, lesser florican, black stork and white stork. A few of the common birds seen are peafowl, red jungle fowl, and different species of egrets, herons, kingfishers, flycatchers and woodpeckers. The best times for bird watching are in March and December. More than 45 species of amphibians and reptiles are found in the park, some of which are the marsh mugger crocodile, cobra, green pit viper and various species of frogs and tortoises.
The park is actively engaged in the scientific study of several species of wild flora and fauna. The Chitwan region has had a long history of conservation. For many years it was the Royal hunting grounds for the Kings and dignitaries of Nepal and therefore was not hunted by the general public. It did however become a favorite spot for big game safari hunters in the late nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth centuries. This was coupled with a surge in local human populations following the development of anti-malaria medicines in the mid-twentieth century. The long-term effect was a drastic decrease in jungle habitat and animal populations in the Chitwan valley as jungles were converted to farmland and big game were hunted and poached to dangerously low numbers. The falling rhino (less than 200) and tiger (less than 30) populations in the present park region, focused attention on the Chitwan region and in 1963 the southern two-thirds of the park were declared rhino sanctuary. With sanctuary status began the relocation of 22,000 people from the Chitwan valley and a moratorium on hunting. Since 1963 wildlife populations and ecosystems have been rebounding. In 1973 Chitwan became Nepal’s first National Park. The relatively pristine state of the modern park and its unique ecosystems prompted UNESCO to declare the park a World Heritage site in 1984.
Within the park lie the Churia hills, ox-bow lakes, and the flood plains of Rapti, Reu and Narayani Rivers. The Churia hills rise gradually towards the east from 150m. to over 800m elevation. The lower but more rugged Someshwor hills occupy most of the western portion of the park. The flood plains of Chitwan contain rich alluvial soils. 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 the Parsa Wildlife Reserve.
The park is influenced by a tropical monsoon climate with relatively high humidity. Winter, spring and monsoon are the three main seasons. The cool winter season occurs from October to February. Spring begins in March and is soon followed summer that ends in early June. Summer days are typically hot with up to an average 30C daytime temperature. The monsoon usually begins at the end of June and continues until September. The mean annual rainfall is about 21-50 mm. and during this time of the year rivers are flooded and most of the roads are virtually impassable.
The Chitwan Valley is characterized by tropical to sub-tropical forest. Roughly 70% of park vegetative cover is sal (shorea robusta) forest, a moist deciduous vegetation type of the Terai region. The remaining vegetation types include: grassland (20%), riverine forest (70%), and sal with chirpine (pinus roxburghii) (3%) forest, the latter occurring at the tops of the Churia range. The riverine forests consist mainly of khair, sissoo, and simal. The simal has a spiny bark when young and develops buttresses at the bottom in older stages. The grasslands form a diverse and complex community with over 50 species.