The Royal Chitwan National Parks (RCNP) was officially established in 1973 as the first national parks of the Kingdom. Since then, seven National parks, five wildlife reserves, one hunting reserve and one conservation area have been established in Nepal covering approximately 14702km that is about 10% of the total land area of the country. The Royal Chitwan National Park was included in the list of World Heritage sites in 1984.
Royal Chitwan Park is located in the Chitwan district of Narayani Zone at 27 degree 30’N latitude and Between 84 degree and 34’ E longitude. It lies approximately 90 km southwest of Kathmandu (about 160 km by road). The park is roughly 50 km long and 6 to 20 km broad. At the time of declaration of RCNP the park covered an area of 540 km. but its size was increased to 932 km in 1976. It is situated in the subtropical inner Terai (lowlands) of the central parts of Nepal. It is also known as the Rapti Valley, Churia or Someswor range with 180 to 800 meters elevation. This Park consists of the Churai hills, 17 small lakes, and the floodplains to the Rapti, Reu and Narayani rivers.
The environment setting of the Chitwan Valley prior to the establishment of RCNP was regarded as the richest sanctuary of wildlife. During the Rana rule in Nepal from 1846 to 1950, Chitwan was promoted as the ruling hunting preserve. In the winter of 1861, Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana assembled 975 domestic Elephants and Shot 31 tigers, captured 21 Wild Elephants, and killed 11 wild buffaloes, 10 wild Boars, 4 Bears, 3 Leopards, 1 Rihno and many other game animals. Similarly, Chandra Shamsher had assembled 600 trained elephants in Chitwan Valley for King George’s visit in December 1911. They bagged 58 tigers, 28 rhinos, 60 sloth bears in a period of 5 days.
There were only a few scattered villages in the Chitwan before 1950. But this fertile valley with a rich forest-grass land attracted the attention of the government in the 1950s.
The present day Royal Chitwan National Park is covered with: Sal forest: 70%; grassland: 20%; riverine forest: 7%; and pine forest: 3%. About 500 vascular plant species have already been listed from this park by Mishra and Jeffries (1991) based on several surveys. Sal is the dominant species in RCNP with the highest Important Value Index (106). Relation Coverage of Sal is about 80% (Singh, 1993). There is a pine (pinus roxburghii) forest at the top of Churai Hill. This forest also has Sal trees. Riverine forests vary in their composition. Three distinct types of riverine forest exist in the parks.
- Acacia Catechu and Dalbergia sisso forest at the banks of the Rapti And Narayani rivers;
- Bombax cieba, Trewia nudiflora, Listsea monopetala forest;
Tropical deciduous riverine forest with Syzygium cumini, Ficus sp.Laurie (1978) classified a fourth category of riverine forest in the park as tropical evergreen forest containing species such as Litsea monopetala, Albiza procera, etc. Density and frequency of these species differ in different blocks of riverine forest.The grassland area is expanding in the RCNP, indicating successional changes. Tamang reported that 18% of the land of RCNP during 1963-67 was grassland. One can easily see the encroaching trend of Saccharum spontaneum into forest, forming ecotones. About 70 herbaceous species occur in the grassland of RCNP. Out of these, Saccharum spontaneum, S. porphyrocoma and Themeda attain height of up to 8m. Short grasses including Cynodon dactylon, Erogrostis japonica, Chrysopogon sp, Cryperus sp. And Imperata cylindrical are other important grasses found in abandoned and fire affected areas.WildLife About 40 species of mammals, 450 species of birds, 200 species of butterflies, and 60 species of fishes have already been enumerated from the park, which comprise some endangered and rare species. Beside the two important animals, the rhino and tiger, there are many other animals such as leopard, wild buffalo, wild dog, monkey, langur, fishing cat, etc. present in the park. Elephants are also found here.
One Horned Rhino:Royal Chitwan National Park is the native habitat for the one-horned rhinoceros. One estimate indicates that RCNP has over 300 (400 in Nepal) out of the world’s total 2000 one-horned rhinos (Caouette, 1993).
Tiger: The tiger is another very important wildlife species that is becoming extinct. The exact number of tigers in Nepal is not known, but it is presumed to be between 50- 60. In the last twenty years, RCNP has lost 10 tigers. Previously it was very common to see a tiger while on an elephant safari, but now it is rarely seen. Mishra (1982) reported that the resident tiger population was 5 adult males and 16 females, an average density of one tiger hold per 43 km. The tigers prey species in the park include: Chital, Sambar, Hog Deer, Wild Boar and Baby Rhinos.
Gharial: Crocodiles are another endangered species worldwide. Out of about 500 wild adult crocodiles in the world, the Narayani River has the greatest concentration. It was once estimated that there were 100-150 gharial and about 50 to 70 mugger crocodiles (short snout) there. To conserve gharials and muggers, a crocodiles breeding center has been established by the DNPWR in Chitwan National Park. The first batch of 50 crocodiles was released in 1981 in the Narayani River. Since then, 435 crocodiles have been introduced into the Narayani, Gandaki, Rapti, Karnali and Koshi rivers.
The Royal Chitwan National Park is one of the most popular parks for visitors. Three has been a continuous increase in the number of tourist visiting RCNP. In 1974, 236 tourists visited RCNP, whereas this number reached 55,335 in 1992.
There are six hotel in the park, each occupying 5 bighas (1 bigha=0.7 ha. Approx .) of land. In addition, there are three tented camps, each occupying and additional 2 bigha of land in the park. These hotels own about 30 vehicles moving in and out of the park. The park has 200 km of rough road, out of which 100 km are available for vehicular movement.
There are three important religious sites in the park. These are: Vikram Baba at Kasara, Godhak Nath at Maadi, and Valmiki Asharam at Triveni. Every year thousands of pilgrims visit these places. The neighboring population also uses these places for picnics.