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Located in the Chitwan District in south-central Nepal, Chitwan National Park was established in 1973 and granted the status of World Heritage Site in 1984. Covering an area of 932 sq km, its altitude ranges from 330 feet to 2,674 feet.
Literally translated, Chitwan means Heart of the Jungle. It was a favorite hunting ground for the royals of Nepal since the end of the 19th century. During the winter seasons, comfortable camps were set up in the area for the hunters and their entourage and hundreds of tigers, rhinos, leopards and sloth bears were hunted.
Chitwan’s forest extended beyond 2,600 sq km in the 1950s and was home to more than 800 rhinos. But the area was gradually opened for settlement and unrestrained poaching of the wildlife started. Edward Pritchard Gee surveyed the area and recommended that a protected area and wildlife sanctuary be created north and south of the Rapti River respectively.
By the end of the 1960s only 95 rhinos were left and thousands of people had settled in the area. This striking decline in the wildlife propelled the government to form the Gaida Gasti – a rhino recon patrol of 130 armed men and a network of guard posts all over the area. Following this the National Park was gazetted in 1970 with an area of 544 sq km. and enlarged to its present area in 1977.
Being a part of the central climatic zone of the Himalayas, Chitwan has a tropical monsoon climate with high humidity throughout the year.
Chitwan National Park has a great number of butterflies, moth and insect species that have not been fully surveyed. Close to 19 species of snakes including the king cobra and rock python, starred tortoise and monitor lizards are also found there. Established near the park’s headquarter Kasara, are the gharial and turtle reservation centres. The Narayani-Rapti river system along with its tributaries and lakes is home to 113 recorded species of fish and mugger crocodiles.
There are almost 43 species of mammals here with tiger being the king of them all. It is one of the best tiger habitats in the world. Leopards are found around the fringes of the park. It has the highest population of sloth bears and is also home to the smooth-coated otters. Apart from that Bengal foxes, striped hyenas, wild dogs, golden jackals are also found here.
The population of the rhinoceros has recovered since 1973 and is now 500 plus.
Chitwan is an absolute favorite among bird watchers and conservationists. There are close to 550 species of birds here including spotted eagle, Bengal florican, slender-billed babblers, Oriental darter and white-throated kingfisher.
It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Nepal offering birding, wildlife safaris (jeep and elephant) nature walks and camping. There are excellent adventure activities around the park and a lot of accommodation options to choose from. The best time to visit would be winters.