Nepal’s Chitwan National Park is home to greater one-horned black rhinos, Royal Bengal tigers, sloth bears, wild boar, rhesus macaques, grey langurs, leopards, gaur, spotted deer, marsh muggers, and gharials, but it is NOT just about animals.
Nor is it only about birds, despite a plethora of permanent residents that include kingfishers, drongo, egrets, martins, bulbuls, peacocks, nuthatches, babblers, and lesser adjutant storks. The park is also a stopping point for migrating interlopers, such as Brahminy ducks, greater spotted eagles, bar-headed geese, cuckoos and Pallas’s fish eagles.
Chitwan is NOT Africa, where herds of zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, elephants, hippos and other critters vie for space amid tigers, lions, leopards, and other carnivores ready to pounce at mealtime. Nevertheless, Chitwan is enchanting and has much to teach…if we want to learn.
Welcome to Nepal’s Jungle
When we hear the word jungle, we think of the densely overgrown Amazon or the mysterious rainforests of Borneo. Yet, jungle is derived from the Sanskrit jangal, meaning sparsely grown or arid, and the Hindi word jangal, or uncultivated ground. In Nepal, the subtropical dry forest of Chitwan is a prime example of uncultivated ground.
For Nepal, Chitwan is a national treasure. It’s the country’s first national park, established in 1973 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Once a favorite hunting ground for Nepal’s rulers and their guests, today the park is widely recognized for its successful protection of rhinos, tigers, and gharials.
Chitwan National Park also boasts:
- more than 50 species of grasses, including some of the world’s tallest ones
- thick nitrogen-rich soil (unlike the Amazon jungle)
- 392 species of medicinal plants
- more than 700 species of wildlife, not to mention insects, moths, and butterflies
- at least 543 species of birds
Along with searching for rhinos and tigers, we forest explorers need to learn and appreciate what the Chitwan has to teach us about the interrelationships between people, plants and animals and their interactions with the environment.
Twelve Fast Facts About Chitwan to pique your interest:
- The best time to visit the park is in February or March, when the local people cut the grasses, making animal viewing is easier.
- When it is hot and rhino mud puddles are dry, the leaves of the rhino apple trees (Trewia nudiflora), whose fruits are relished by the rhinos, retain water. In the heat, the water drips off the leaves, acting as an air conditioner to cool the rhinos.
- Dung beetles used to be plentiful in Chitwan, as in other jungle areas, but today they, and other critters, are disappearing, killed by long-term use of pesticides.
- Today, pesticides and other pollutants are having a serious impact on gharials. They are not producing many male eggs, which throws off the balance of the sexes, and the eggs tend to be very small. Thus, reproduction is becoming a critical problem for the survival of the species. If you do not find gharials in the river, then most likely the river is polluted for all creatures. If you see gharials, then likely the water is healthy.
- Termites are great engineers, building enormous jungle houses or termite mounds. Blind, they leave a liquid on the tree when they walk, enabling other blind termites to follow.
- One of the most important medicinal plants, Artemisia indica, grows in Chitwan. It’s used as an insecticide; a treatment for diarrhea, dysentery and abdominal pains; as an eyewash; a wound treatment and a tonic for the kidneys.
- In winter, with far less greenery to eat, many animals depend on aquatic plants for food.
- If you find animal horns on the ground in Chitwan, leave them alone. Animals chew the horns, and horns are a source of calcium, iron and other vitamins. The horns are particularly important nourishment for pregnant female antelopes.
- If you are an orchid lover, visit Chitwan during the summer rainy months, when orchids and cymbidiums are flourishing.
- Jeep safaris are okay, but if you really want to get to know Chitwan, walk it, canoe it or ride an elephant.
- Tiger poop is different from one day to the next since this king of the jungle rarely eats the same thing two days in a row. If you do find that a tiger is pooping the same things consistently, most likely the tiger is sick.
- Rhinos always poop in the same spot, creating a sort of a meeting place for rhino friends. Elephants, on the other hand, poop randomly wherever they roam.
Even if you don’t see a tiger, Chitwan National Park is amazing!