Royal 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 and is located in the subtropical Inner Terai lowlands of south-central Nepal in the Chitwan district. In altitude it ranges from about 100 meters (330 ft) in the river valleys to 815 meters (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 Parsa Wildlife Reserve, contiguous in the south is the Indian Tiger Reserve Valmiki National Park. The coherent protected area of 2,075 km2 represents the Tiger Conservation Unit (TCU) Chitwan-Parsa-Valmiki, which covers a 3.549 km2 huge block of alluvial grasslands and subtropical moist deciduous forests.
HISTORY – CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK NEPAL
Since the end of the 19th century Chitwan – Heart of the Jungle – used to be a favorite hunting ground for Nepal’s ruling class during the winter seasons. Until the 1950s the journey from Kathmandu to Nepal South was arduous as the area could only be reached by foot. Thus, in an area known as Four Mile Forest comfortable camps were set up for the feudal big game hunters and their entourage, where they stayed for a couple of months shooting hundreds of tigers, rhinocerosses, leopards and sloth bears.
In 1950 Chitwan’s forest and grasslands extended over more than 2,600 km2 and was home to about 800 rhinos. When poor farmers from the mid-hills moved to the Chitwan Valley in search of arable land, the area was subsequently opened for settlement, and poaching of wildlife became rampant. In 1957 the country’s first conservation law inured to the protection of rhinos and their habitat. In 1959 Edward Pritchard Gee undertook a survey of the area, recommended creation of a protected area north of the Rapti river and of a wildlife sanctuary south of the river for a trial period of ten years. After his subsequent survey of Chitwan in 1963, this time for both the Fauna Preservation Society and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, he recommended extension of the sanctuary to the south.
However, by the end of the 1960s 70% of Chitwan’s jungles were cleared using DDT, thousands of people had settled there, and only 95 rhinos remained. The dramatic decline of the rhino population and the extent of poaching prompted the government to institute the Gaida Gasti – a rhino reconnaissance patrol of 130 armed men and a network of guard posts all over Chitwan. To prevent the extinction of rhinos the Chitwan National Park was gazetted in December 1970 with borders delineated the following year and established in 1973, initially encompassing an area of 544 km2
In 1977 the park was enlarged to its present area of 932 km2. In 1997 a bufferzone of 766.1 km2 was added to the north and west of the Narayani-Rapti river system, and between the south-eastern boundary of the park and the international border to India.
The park’s headquarter is located in Kasara. Close-by the Gharial and Turtle Conservation Breeding Centres have been established. In 2008 a Vulture breeding centre was inaugurated aiming at holding up to 25 pairs of each of the two Gyps vultures species now critically endangered in Nepal – the Oriental white-backed vulture and the slender-billed vulture.
CLIMATE NEPAL – CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK NEPAL
The area is located in the central climatic zone of the Himalayas, where monsoon starts in mid June and eases off in late September. During these 14-15 weeks most of the 2,500 mm yearly precipitation falls – it is pouring with rain. After mid-October the monsoon clouds have retreated, humidity drops off, and the top daily temperature gradually subsides from ±36°C / 96.8 °F to ±18°C / 64.4 °F. Nights are cooling down to 5°C / 41.0 °F until late December, when it usually rains softly for a few days. Then temperatures are rising gradually.
MAMMALS – CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK NEPAL
The Chitwan National Park is home to at least 43 species of mammals. The „King of the Jungle“ is the Bengal Tiger. The alluvial floodplain habitat of the Terai is one of the best tiger habitats anywhere in the world. Since the establishment of Chitwan National Park the initially small population of about 25 individuals has increased to 70-110 in 1980. In some years this population has declined due to poaching and floods. In a long-term study carried out from 1995-2002 tiger researchers identified a relative abundance of 82 breeding tigers and a density of 6 females per 100 km2
Leopards are most prevalent on the peripheries of the park. They co-exist with tigers, but being socially subordinate are not common in prime tiger habitat . Apart from these top predators fishing cats, jungle cats, clouded leopards, leopard cats, marbled cats, golden jackals, Indian wild dogs, sloth bears, Bengal foxes, Spotted linsangs, palm civets, Large and Small Indian civets, several species of mongoose, binturongs, honey badgers and yellow-throated martens roam the jungle for prey. Striped hyenas are rare and prevail on the southern slopes of the Churia Hills. Smooth-coated otters inhabit the numerous creeks and rivulets.
BIRDS – CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK NEPAL
Every year dedicated bird watchers and conservationists survey bird species occurring all over the country. In 2006 they recorded 543 species in the Chitwan National Park, much more than in any other protected area in Nepal and about two-thirds of Nepal’s globally threatened species. Additionally, 20 black-chinned yuhina, a pair of Gould’s sunbird, a pair of blossom-headed parakeet and one slaty-breasted rail, an uncommon winter visitor, were sighted in spring 2008
Especially the park’s alluvial grasslands are important habitats for the critically endangered Bengal florican, the vulnerable lesser adjutant, grey-crowned prinia, swamp francolin and several species of grass warblers. In 2005 more than 200 slender-billed babblers were sighted in 3 different grassland types. The near threatened Oriental darter is a resident breeder around the many lakes, where also egrets, bitterns, storks and kingfisher abound.
The park is one of the few known breeding sites of the globally threatened Indian spotted eagle. Peafowl and jungle fowl scratch their living on the forest floor. Apart from the resident birds about 160 migrating and vagrant species arrive in Chitwan in autumn from northern latitudes to spend the winter here, among them the Greater Spotted Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle and Pallas’s Fish-eagle. Common sightings include Brahminy ducks and goosanders. Large flocks of bar-headed geese just rest for a few days in February on their way north.
As soon as the winter visitors have left in spring, the summer visitors arrive from southern latitudes. The calls of Indian cuckoos herald the start of spring. The colourful Bengal Pittas and several sunbird species are common breeding visitors during monsoon. Among the many flycatcher species the Paradise flycatcher with his long undulating tail in flight is a spectacular sight.
TOURISM – CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK NEPAL
Chitwan National Park is one of Nepal’s most popular tourist destinations. In 1989 more than 31,000 people visited the park, and ten years later already more than 77,000. There are several lodges inside the national park offering full board and accommodation in combination with elephant and jeep safaris, rafting tours and guided jungle walks. The pioneer safari lodge is Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge receiving guests since 1972. Tiger Tops has developed standards for responsible conservation tourism, e.g. supports the “Long-term Tiger Monitoring Project” and anti-poaching units operating in the national park.
On the edge of the national park Sauraha is a well-known spot for tourists. Accessible from the nearby Bharatpur Airport, Sauraha offers a choice of hotels, lodges, restaurants and agencies that organize day trips into the protected area.
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