Royal Chitwan National Park (27°20-27°40'N) is a World Heritage Site which lies in the lowlands or Inner Terai of southern central Nepal on the international border with India. The park's boundaries extend from the Dauney Hills on the west bank of the Narayani River eastward 78 kilometers (km) to Hasta and Dhoram rivers. The park is bounded to the north by the Narayani and Rapti rivers and to the south by the Panchnad and Reu rivers and a forest road. 27°20-27°40'N, 83°52'-84°45'E
Parsa Wildlife Reserve is contiguous to the eastern boundary of the park and extends as far eastwards as the Bheraha and Bagali rivers. 27°15'-27°35'N, 84°45'-84°58'E
Date and History of Establishment
- 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 , demarcated in 1963, and later incorporated into the national park.
- Chitwan was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1984.
Chitwan was enlarged from 54,400 hectares (ha) to its present size of 93,200 ha in 1977. Parsa Wildlife Reserve covers 49,900 ha. There was a proposal to further enlarge the protected areas complex by establishing the 25,900 ha Bara Hunting Reserve, adjacent to and east of Parsa Wildlife Reserve, but this has been dropped.
Altitude ranges from 150 meters (m) to 815 m on the Churia Range.
Chitwan is situated in a river valley basin or dun, along the floodplains of the Rapti, Reu and Narayani rivers. The Someswar and the Dauney hills form the southern catchment and both drain into the Narayani. The Churia Hills bisect the park, their northern face falling within the catchment of the Rapti and southern side forming the catchment of the Reu. The Rapti is bounded by the Mahabharat Range on the north. Both the Rapti and Reu flow westwards and drain into the Narayani, which meanders southwards for about 25 km through a narrow gorge between the Someswar and Dauney hills until it reaches the Nepal-India border. Here it is dammed near Tribenighat. The Narayani is also called the Gandaki and is the third largest river in Nepal. It originates in the high Himalaya and, after joining the Ganges in India, drains into the Bay of Bengal. The Churia, Someswar and Dauney hills constitute part of the Siwaliks which are characterized by outwash deposits carried from the north. All the rocks are of Pliocene or Pleistocene, fluviatile origin, and consist mainly of sandstones, conglomerates, quartzites, shales and micaceous sandstone. The Siwaliks show a distinctive fault pattern that has produced steep cliffs on the south-facing slopes, where vegetation cover is poorer than the northern slopes. The Mahabharat Range consists of severely eroded pre-Siwalik quartzites, phyllites and sandstones. The floodplains comprise a series of ascending alluvial terraces laid down by the rivers and subsequently raised by Himalayan uplift. The terraces are composed of layers of boulders and gravels set in a fine silty matrix. There is a rough gradient from the higher-lying boulders and gravels to sands and silts and then to the low-lying silt loams and silty clay loams.
Conditions are subtropical with a summer monsoon from mid-June to late-September, and a relatively dry winter. Mean annual rainfall is 2,400 millimeters (mm) with about 90% falling in the monsoon from June to September. Monsoon rains cause dramatic floods and changes in the character and courses of rivers. Temperatures are highest (maximum 38°C) during this season and drop to a minimum of 6°C in the post-monsoon period (October to January), when dry northerly winds from the Himalaya and Tibetan Plateau are prevalent.
The climax vegetation of the Inner Terai is sal Shorea robusta forest, which covers some 70% of the park. However, floods, fires and riverine erosion combine to make a continually changing mosaic of grasslands and riverine forests in various stages of succession. Purest stands of sal occur on better drained ground such as the lowlands around Kasra in the centre of the park. Elsewhere, sal is intermingled with chir pine Pinus roxburghii along the southern face of the Churia Hills and with tree species such as Terminalia belerica, Dalbergia latifolia, Anogeissus latifolius, Dillenia indica and Garuga pinnata on northern slopes. Creepers, such as Bauhinia vahlii and Spatholobus parviflorus, are common. The understorey is scant with the exception of grasses such as Themeda villosa. Riverine forest and grasslands, which form a mosaic along the river banks, are maintained by seasonal flooding. Khair-sissoo Acacia catechu-Dalbergia sissoo associations predominate on recent alluvium deposited during floods and in lowland areas that escape the most serious flooding. Semal-bhellar Bombax ceiba-Trewia nudiflora, with understorey shrubs Callicarpa macrophylla, Clerodendrum viscosum and Phyllanthus emblica, represent a later stage in succession. Two other types of riverine forest (Eugenia woodland and tropical evergreen forest) occur in areas outside the present boundary of the park. Seven major grassland types have been identified, which consitute about 20% of the park's area: Themeda villosa forms a tall grass cover in clearings in the sal forest; Saccharum-Narenga associations grow as mixed and pure stands of tall grass (Saccharum spontaneum is one of the first species to colonize newly created sandbanks); Arundo-Phragmites associations form dense tall stands along stream beds on the floodplain and around lakes; Imperata cylindrica grows prolificallyin areas within the park which were occupied by villages prior to their evacuation in 1964; various short grasses and herbs grown on exposed sandbanks during the dry months and become much more prolific with the outset of rain in May (e.g. Polygonum plebeium, Persicaria spp. and sedges such as Cyperus, Kyllinga and Mariscus spp.); Cynodon dactylon and Chrysopogon aciculatus and other short grasses grow in highest areas near riverine forest all the year round; and low-lying stands of Saccharum spontaneum, which are destroyed by repeated flooding early in the monsoon.
Over 40 species of mammals have been recorded. Prior to its re-introduction to Royal Bardia National Park in 1986, the park contained the last Nepalese population of the Indian rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis (E). This had increased from about 300 in 1975 to about 350 in 1986. It is currently estimated at 375-400. Tiger Panthera tigris (E) is present and has been the subject of a long-term study begun in 1974. The population increased from an estimated 25 in 1974 to 70-110 in 1980, of which 24-30 are resident breeders at any one time, but has recently crashed. Half of the resident tigers in the western portion of the park disappeared during the 1990 monsoon and two-thirds of dependent young were also missing. Leopard Panthera pardus (T) is widespread and other threatened mammal species include wild dog Cuon alpinus (V), sloth bear Melursus ursinus (I), Ganges river dolphin Platanista gangetica (V), and gaur Bos gaurus (V). Hispid hare Caprolagus hispidus (E) is also present. The sloth bear population totalled 50-60 in 1979. The river dolphin population may have declined following the construction of a dam towards the Indian border. Seven were recorded in 1980 but none in 1990. Wild elephant Elephas maximus (E) occasionally pass through the Churia Hills. Other mammals include rhesus macaque Macaca mulatta and common langur Presbytis entellus, smooth-coated otter Lutra perspicillata, yellow-throated marten Martes flavigula, ratel Mellivora capensis, spotted linsang Prionodon pardicolor, large Indian civet Viverra zibetha, small Indian civet Viverricula indica, common palm civet Paradoxurus hermaphroditus, Himalayan palm civet Paguma larvata, mongoose Herpestes spp., fishing cat Felis viverrina (K), leopard cat F. bengalensis, jungle cat F. chaus, jackal Canis aureus, striped hyena Hyaena hyaena, Indian fox Vulpes bengalensis (I), sambar Cervus unicolor, hog deer C. porcinus, spotted deer C. axis, Indian muntjac Muntiacus muntjak, wild boar Sus scrofa, Chinese pangolin Manis pentadactyla, five-striped palm squirrel Funambulus pennanti, Indian porcupine Hystrix indica and Indian hare Lepus nigricollis. The wild ungulate biomass within riverine/tall grass habitats has been estimated at 18,590 kilograms per square kilometer (kg/km2), far exceeding that reported anywhere else in the Indian sub-continent. Most mammals found in the park also occurs in Parsa Wildlife Reserve with the exception of hog deer. Four-horned antelope Tetracerus quadricornis occurs in Parsa, on the southern slopes of the Churia Hills, and the reserve contains Nepal's only reproducing herd of about 21 elephants.
A larger number of bird species has been recorded in Chitwan (489 in total) than in any other protected area in Nepal. This is attributed to the park's wide range of habitat types and location within the tropical lowlands of Central Nepal where eastern and western species overlap in their distributions. There are ten breeding species for which Nepal may hold internationally significant populations including Bengal florican Houbaropsis bengalensis (E) and rufous-necked laughing-thrush Garrulax ruficollis. It is the only locality in the country for striped buttonquail Turnix sylvatica, bristled grass warbler Chaetornis striatus andslender-billed babbler Turdoides longirostris. In addition, Chitwan is the only protected area where the following species considered to be at risk in Nepal have been found: yellow bittern Ixobrychus sinensis, black baza Aviceda leuphotes, laggar falcon Falco jugger, blue-breasted quail Coturnix chinensis, thick-billed green pigeon Treron curvirostra, mountain imperial pigeon Ducula badia, vernal hanging parrot Loriculus vernalis, red-winged crested cuckoo Clamator coromandus, banded bay cuckoo Cacomantis sonneratii, tawny fish owl Ketupa flavipes, white-vented needletail Hirundapus cochinchinensis, deep blue kingfisher Alcedo meninting, white-browed piculet Sasia ochracea, long-tailed broadbill Psarisomus dalhousiae, hooded pitta Pitta sordida, white-throated bulbul Criniger flaveolus, lesser necklaced laughing-thrush Garrulax monileger, greater necklaced laughing-thrush G. pectoralis, ruby-cheeked sunbird Anthreptes singalensis and little spiderhunter Arachnothera longirostra. Chitwan is very important for wintering birds (about 160 in total), both winter visitors from outside Nepal and many altitudinal migrants which descend to the lowlands outside the breeding season, as well as a valuable staging point for numerous passage migrant species.
Some 19 species of snake occur in the park including king cobra Ophiophagus hannah, green pit viper Trimeresurus albolabris, common krait Bungarus caeruleus and Indian python Python molurus (V). Other notable reptiles are mugger Crocodylus palustris (V) (declining from at least 200 in 1978 to 70 in 1986/1988), gharial Gavialis gangeticus (E), Indian starred tortoise Geochelone elongata and monitor lizards Varanus spp.
Some 113 species of fish have been recorded, including Barilius spp., Tor tor, T. putitora and Puntius spp.
The indigenous Tharus have lived in the Chitwan area for centuries, but they are out-numbered by settlers from the hills who poured into the Inner Terai following the eradication of malaria in the 1950s. There are two Hindu religious sites, Bikram Baba at Kasara and Balmiki Ashram at Tribeni, which are very significant to both the local people living around the park and visitors from India.
Local Human Population
Padampur Panchayat, located immediately to the south of the Rapti River, is a heavily populated area as well as providing some of the last remaining habitat for tiger, rhinoceros, and gharial. In the 1950s, with the fall of the Rana regime and the eradication of malaria from the area, the human population of Chitwan rose dramatically from 36,000 to 100,000 between 1950 and 1960. By 1980 there were 261,300 people in 320 settlements around the park.
Visitors and Visitor Facilities
Chitwan is one of the most popular tourist destinations outside Kathmandu and Pokhara. Visitor numbers have risen from less than 1,000 in 1974 to 31,446 in 1989. Tiger Tops operates a Jungle Lodge and Tented Camp in the west of the park, and Tharu Village Resort peripheral to the park. Its Jungle Lodge pre-dates the park, having been set up by John Coapman in the mid-1960s. Other concession lodges inside the park are Chitwan Jungle Lodge and Machan Wildlife Resort in the east, and Tiger Temple in the west. Similar luxury lodges on the edge of the park are Gaida Wildlife Camp and Elephant Camp at Sauraha, and Island Resort and Narayani Safari. There are over 30 low-budget lodges and guest houses outside the park.Sauraha has a good visitor information center. There are no provisions for visitors in Parsa Wildlife Reserve, and no visitors were recorded in 1989.
Scientific Research and Facilities
Chitwan is one of the best studied protected areas in the subcontinent. A program of research concerning the ecology of the tiger and its prey species was initiated in 1973 by His Majesty's Government, the Smithsonian Institution and World Wildlife Fund (WWF). This was superseded in 1984 by the Smithsonian-Nepal Terai Ecology Project, the scope of which encompasses broader aspects of ecology, including the relationship between habitats, invertebrate, vertebrate and human populations. Further details of its research activities can be found in the project's newsletter. McDougal also studied the tiger in the west of the park. The ecology of the Indian rhinoceros has been studied by Laurie and more recently by Dinerstein. Other mammals studied include chital, hog deer and muntjac. The avifauna is well documented, with research including surveys of wetland species. A gharial breeding centre, funded by Frankfurt Zoological Society, was established at Kasara Durbar in 1977. More than 200 young have been reared and re-introduced to the wild. T.M. Maskey has studied the survival and dispersal of gharial released in the Narayani River. The Aberdeen University Expedition to Nepal in 1980 surveyed fish resources in the Narayani River system with respect to the endangered gharial population. Studies on grassland ecology have been carried out by Lemkuhl et al. A proposal to establish the Nepal Conservation Training and Wildlife Institute has been made by the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Tribhuvan University and the Institute of Forestry. The Smithsonian-Nepal Terai Ecology Project has its field station at Sauraha, where accommodation and facilities for scientists are available.
Chitwan National Park and the adjacent Parsa Wildlife Reserve constitute the largest and least disturbed example of sal forest and associated communities of the Terai, with a long history of protection dating back to the early 1800s in the case of Chitwan. Species diversity is high, notably for mammals and birds which are well documented. Chitwan supports the world's second largest population of Indian rhinoceros and is also an important refuge for tiger and gharial. Its tall grasslands and riverine forest support a very high wild ungulate biomass which greatly exceeds that reported elsewhere in the Indian subcontinent. Large numbers of visitors are attracted to the area because of its exceptional natural beauty, with the distant Himalaya providing a spectacular backdrop to views of forested hills, grasslands, and great rivers. Research on the natural history of the area has been an important contribution to understanding ecological systems in the Terai.
Chitwan was identified as the priority area in the Terai for conservation due to its important faunal elements, particularly Indian rhinoceros which had been extirpated from its former range elsewhere in Nepal. Development of the then proposed national park began in 1971 with a modest budget provided by the Forest Department and supplemented by a grant from WWF. Conservation measures have been an outstanding success, as indicated by the substantial increase in wildlife populations and regeneration of vegetation along the Rapti River over subsequent years. Much of this success can be attributed to several resettlement schemes. Some 22,000 people were resettled from the Rapti area, including 4,000 from the former rhinoceros sanctuary, following the creation of a Land Settlement Commission in 1964. Subsequently, 7,000 people from 10 of the 16 villages in Padampur Panchayat on the eastern side of the park were resettled to more fertile lands devoid of wild herbivores, based on recommendations from a study by the International Centre for Environmental Renewal. The scheme met with local support but further relocation of any of the other 310 villages that surround the park is not politically or economically feasible.
There is a park management plan for the period 1975-1979 but it needs to be completely revised. The establishment of Parsa Wildlife Reserve as an eastern extension to the park has increased the area under protection by about 60%. This extension was also intended to prevent possible isolation of the proposed Bara Hunting Reserve from the park.
The main concession to local people is the annual harvesting of tall grasses, a valuable building material which is not readily available elsewhere. In 1987, an estimated 11,132 tons of grass were removed by 60,000 people during the 15-day grass-cutting period, valued at approximately NRs 9.9 million (US$ 450,000). The net contribution to the local economy, after subtraction of labor and permit costs, is NRs 5.5 million (US$ 250,000). The opening of the Bhrikuti Paper Mill at nearby Gaidakot is introducing a new dimension to local requirements for grass. In view of Chitwan's importance as a tourist attraction, the park authorities, in collaboration with Peace Corps/Nepal, run a two-week training program annually for tour guides. In future, it is planned to permit only licensed guides who have attended and passed the course to operate in the park.
The park was listed as a Threatened Protected Area of the World by the IUCN Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas in 1990 in view of the proposed establishment of a hydroelectric barrage on the Narayani River upstream of the park and the East Rapti Irrigation Project, which would reduce the base flow by 75%. Both projects would result in changes to the riverine ecosystems, and could seriously affect aquatic and terrestrial faunal populations. In a recent assessment of the East Rapti Irrigation Project for the Asian Development Bank, Talbot concludes that environmental risks from the project are unacceptably high and recommends that it be reformulated or replaced by one or more lower-cost projects.
Considerable antagonism has long existed between the park and local people, particularly residents of Padampur Panchayat. The main areas of conflict are loss of life (three to five people are killed each year by rhinoceros and tiger), loss of livestock (domestic cattle may constitute up to 30% of tiger kills in settled areas peripheral to the park), damage to crops (estimated to range from 10% to 100%) and restrictions concerning the use of the park's resources (hunting, fishing, grazing, and collection of timber, fuelwood and other forest products for food and medicine are prohibited within the park). Sixteen people were killed by tigers in and around the park between October 1980 and early 1989. Such conflicts will escalate as the local human population continues to increase and remnant forest and grassland areas outside the protected areas complex decline, but they are being addressed by the park authorities and local people are beginning to appreciate the value of the park for managed natural resources.
Illegal collection of fuelwood during the grass-cutting season is a hindrance to the proper management of the program and, in the long-term, will need to be resolved by establishing community fuelwood plantations around the park. Collection of tall grasses is well controlled but has inevitably led to changes in the floral composition of the grassland communities. Annual burning seems to maintain the grasslands but semal Bombax ceiba, the only fire resistant tree, is encroaching this habitat. Overgrazing along Padampur Panchayat's riverine boundary is seriously accelerating the already extensive erosion of the river bank: consequently valuable crop lands are being lost. The development of tourist facilities (hotels and teashops) on the eastern side of the park has not been controlled. In general, the rapid increase in the number of foreigners visiting Chitwan has led to locally inflated prices for basic foods and household products. This problem is compounded by the fact that few local people are employed in the park so that the local population is poorer as a result of the park's presence, although more recently it is reported that near by villagers receive 50% of park-generated revenues. Poaching has increased recently. At least eight rhinos were killed between August 1990 and March 1991 and three tigers poisoned since November 1990.
Water Hyacinth Icornia spp., an introduced species, is causing problems by choking up waterways, and over-visitation by tourists is also believed to be having negative impacts on the park.
One chief warden, one warden, two assistant wardens, 11 rangers, 11 senior game scouts, 44 game scouts, and 29 office staff. One battalion of the Royal Nepal Army is stationed in the park for enforcement duties. Elephant staff total 67 at Chitwan and 34 at Birganj (undated information).
Expenditure was NRs 2,447,353 (US$ 81,578) and income NRs 13,449,910 (US$ 448,330) in 1989/1990. Income was derived from entrance and camping fees (65.4%), elephant rides (14.4%), hotel concessions (12.2%), grass-cutting permits (2.3%) and various other sources (5.6%). The budget for 1990/1991 is NRs 2,970,000 (US$ 99,000).
IUCN Management Category
- II (National Park)
- Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria ii, iii, iv
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