Nestled at the foot of the Himalayas, Chitwan has a particularly rich flora and fauna and is home to one of the last populations of single-horned Asiatic rhinoceros and is also one of the last refuges of the Bengal Tiger. Chitwan National Park (CNP), established in 1973, was Nepal’s first National Park. Located in the Southern Central Terai of Nepal, it formerly extended over the foothills, the property covers an area of 93,200 hectares, extends over four districts: Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Parsa and Makwanpur.
The park is the last surviving example of the natural ecosystems of the ‘Terai’ region and covers subtropical lowland, wedged between two east-west river valleys at the base of the Siwalik range of the outer Himalayas.
The spectacular landscape, covered with lush vegetation and the Himalayas as the backdrop makes the park an area of exceptional natural beauty. The forested hills and changing river landscapes serve to make Chitwan one of the most stunning and attractive parts of Nepal’s lowlands.
Constituting the largest and least disturbed example of sal forest and associated communities, Chitwan National Park is an outstanding example of biological evolution with a unique assemblage of native flora and fauna from the Siwalik and inner Terai ecosystems. The property is the last major surviving example of the natural ecosystems of the Terai and has witnessed minimal human impacts from the traditional resource dependency of people, particularly the aboriginal Tharu community living in and around the park.
The combination of alluvial flood plains and riverine forest provides an excellent habitat for the Great One-horned Rhinoceros and the property is home for the second largest population of this species in the world. It is also prime habitat for the Bengal Tiger and supports a viable source population of this endangered species. Exceptionally high in species diversity, the park harbours 31% of mammals, 61% of birds, 34% of amphibians and reptiles, and 65% of fishes recorded in Nepal. Additionally, the park is famous for having one of the highest concentrations of birds in the world (over 350 species) and is recognized as one of the worlds’ biodiversity hotspots as designated by Conservation International and falls amongst WWFs’ 200 Global Eco-regions.
The World Heritage values of the Park have been enhanced as the population of Greater One-horned Rhinoceros and Bengal Tiger have increased (Rhinoceros – around 300 in the 1980s to 503 in 2011 and Tigers 40 breeding adults in the 1980s to 125 breeding adults in 2010). Poaching of endangered one horned rhinoceros for illegal trade of its horn is one pressing threat faced by the park authority, despite the tremendous efforts towards Park Protection. Illegal trade in tiger parts and timber theft are also threats with the potential to impact on the integrity of the property. The traditional dependency of local people on forest resources is well controlled and has not been seen to impact negatively on the property. Human-Wildlife conflict remains an important issue and threat that has been addressed through compensation schemes and other activities as part of the implementation of the buffer zone program.
Chitwan National Park has a long history of protection dating back to the early 1800s. It has been designated and legally protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973. The Nepalese Army has been deployed for park protection since 1975.
Chitwan was declared a national park in 1973, following approval by the late King Mahendra in December 1970. The bye-laws (Royal Chitwan National Park Regulations) were introduced on 4 March 1974. Substantial additions were made to the park in 1977 and the adjacent Parsa Wildlife Reserve was established in 1984. The habitat had been well protected as a royal hunting reserve from 1846 to 1951 during the Rana regime. An area south of the Rapti River was first proposed as a rhinoceros sanctuary in 1958 (Gee, 1959), demarcated in 1963 (Gee, 1963; Willan, 1965) and later incorporated into the national park. Chitwan was designated as a World Heritage site in November 1984.
The species listed below represent a small sample of iconic and/or IUCN Red Listed animals and plants found in the Chitwan National Park.
• Arundo donax / Giant Crane
• Axis porcinus / Hog Deer
• Bos gaurus / Indian bison
• Buceros bicornis / Great Hornbill
• Caprolagus hispidus / Hispid Hare
• Crocodylus palustris / Mugger
• Cuon alpinus / Dhole
• Dalbergia sissoo / Shisham
• Dillenia indica / Elephant Apple
• Elephas maximus / Asian Elephant
The park has a range of climatic seasons, each offering a unique experience. October through February with an average temperature of 25°C offers an enjoyable climate. From March to June temperatures can reach as high as 43°C. The hot humid days give way to the monsoon season that typically lasts from late June until September. Rivers become flooded sometime during the season, the scenery looks most amazing with unexpected water levels.
In late January, local villagers are allowed to cut thatch grasses to meet their needs, which offer a better and easy viewing of wildlife to visitors. Also, between September and November, and February and April, migratory birds create spectacular bird watching opportunity. While the monsoon rains brings lush vegetation, most trees flower in late winter. The “Palash tree” known as the “flame of the forest” and slick cotton tree have spectacular crimson flowers that can be seen from a distance.