A Safari Through Chitwan National Park’s Past and Present

The park is considered Asia’s most well-preserved conservation area and one of the best places on the continent to see wildlife.

8, Feb 2023 | nepaltraveller.com

With decades—and beyond—of rich history, Chitwan National Park continues to flourish, making it one of Nepal’s most popular and unmissable tourist attractions

From a famous game hunting arena to a protected wildlife area, Chitwan National Park has seen a drastic change over the years, but the essence of its raw natural beauty remains the same. Located in south-central Nepal, this 932 square kilometre area is Nepal’s first national park and was also the first protected area in the country. It was declared a national park in 1973—then at 543 square kilometres, before expanding in 1977—and was made an official UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Almost a half-century later, the park continues to flourish, making it one of Nepal’s most popular and unmissable tourist attractions. But through the 1800s and almost half of the 1900s, Chitwan National Park was quite the opposite of a conservation area. It was, at that time, a private hunting reserve used by the royals and aristocrats.


But despite being a hunting area, the place wound up with an unusual level of environmental protection. Since the decimation of natural habitats is the biggest threat to wildlife, having the area protected for hunters probably saved more of the now-endangered animals than would have otherwise been the case. While it was initially quite treacherous to reach Chitwan’s hunting grounds, in the 1950s, human settlements moved closer to the park, increasing poaching and sparking the need for wildlife preservation policies—mainly to protect the area’s wild animals, whose population dropped substantially between 1950 and 1960. But what happened in those ten years that drastically decreased the animal population? The Rapti Valley Development Project or RVDP brought great ecological and economic transformation to Chitwan. Moreover, the policies that RVDP brought about also included mass ploughing of grasslands that destroyed the richest habitat for wildlife. Swamp deer and wild buffalo disappeared in the 1950s.


By the mid-1960s, the populations of Bengal tigers, one horned rhinos, and wild elephants had dropped dangerously low. Alarmed by this change, conservationists started pushing for wildlife preservation, and in the mid-1960s, a wildlife refuge was established in the valley’s southern half, which in 1973 became Chitwan National Park, Nepal’s first such park. With Chitwan National Park in the picture, prospects for tourism rose in Chitwan. By the 1990s, tourism had become a viable source of livelihood for many households. With tourism and agriculture generating revenue side-by-side, Chitwan has developed as a modern city and the prime tourism hub it is today. Until 2006, the park was known as the Royal Chitwan National Park, the name only changing at the end of the decade-long civil war during which Nepal’s centuries-old monarchy was overthrown. Chitwan National Park 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. In addition, Chitwan National Park Regulation (1974) and Buffer Zone Management Regulation (1996) adequately ensure the protection of natural resources and people’s participation in conservation and socio-economic benefits to people living in the buffer zone. This makes Chitwan National Park an outstanding example of the partnership between the government and community in biodiversity conservation. Today, Chitwan National Park is home to the single-horned rhinoceros and Bengal tiger, both highly endangered species.


The Wildlife Display and Information Center, Gharial Breeding Centre, Tharu Cultural Museum, the Bird Education Society, and surrounding villages are all popular sites alongside the park. Given its size and offerings, visitors are usually encouraged to stay for two or more days to experience what the park truly offers. The plant and animal populations of the park are vast; hundreds of bird species, well over 100 fish species, and many types of reptiles, insects, moths, and butterflies. The near-70 mammal species found within the park include leopards, jackals, monkeys, wild boars, and the sloth bear. Sal forests occupy 70% of the park, with grasslands making up 20% of the remaining space. Situated in the subtropical lowlands, in the districts of Nawalparasi, Parsa, Chitwan and Makwanpur, there are eight entrances to the park in total—the two most used are located at the edges of the Sauraha and Meghauli villages, on the east and west sides of the park, respectively. The park is considered Asia’s most well-preserved conservation area and one of the best places on the continent to see wildlife.

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