One of the world’s last refuges of the Bengal tiger and the one-horned Asiatic rhinoceros, the Royal Chitwan National Park is Nepal’s oldest and most celebrated nature reserve, established in 1973 and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984. Located in the lush sub-tropical lowlands of inner Terai, the park, backed by distant Himalayan peaks, encompasses a sprawling 932 square kilometre area of verdant broadleaf forests, exuberant grasslands, rich flood-plains, hills, rivers, and ox-bow lakes.
Home to 543 species of bird, 50 species of mammals, 55 species of amphibians and reptiles, 99 species of fish, and hundreds of thousands of types of insect, most of them undocumented and undiscovered, the wildlife in Chitwan is remarkable. Importantly, the park is home to between one-third to a half of Asia’s entire population of one-horned Indian rhinos. Although difficult to see, the anti-poaching laws in effect since 1973 have dramatically increased their population. There is a small number of wild Indian elephants in the eastern part of the park, but visitors are more likely to encounter domestic and trained elephants near the breeding centre or at one of the visitor lodges. The Royal Bengal tiger is the park’s most elusive—and alluring—inhabitant. There are estimated to be just over one hundred of them in Chitwan today, a number that continues to slowly rise since 1970s, giving some small hope for the future. Still, catching sight of a roaming tiger on a visit to the park is highly unlikely. The sloth bear, named for its diet of insects and termites rather than its disposition, is easier to find than the park’s elusive big cats, as are crocodiles, often seen basking on river banks.