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Once a hunting ground for royalty, Chitwan National Park is now a huge protected area that is bursting with life. After years of habitat loss and persecution, the Park was established in 1973 to protect the remaining wildlife that had found a refuge in the hunting grounds. As the forest and its wildlife inhabitants rebounded, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. Today it is home to some fantastic community-led wildlife tourism, offering the chance to tick off a bucket list of incredible species including Bengal tigers, Asian elephants, leopards, sloth bears, and the highly endangered greater one-horned rhino. Alongside these amazing animals, you can also spot gharials, mugger crocodiles, grey langurs, gaur, and the ubiquitous peacocks. One thing to note is that safaris in Chitwan are not your typical African big-game safaris. Wildlife is generally less abundant and the dense forest often makes it difficult to spot. Still, the chance to encounter a tiger in the wild when exploring the jungle on foot makes this an unforgettable wildlife experience!
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: access to the Park is only permitted through guided walking safaris, jeeps, or canoe trips. All are excellent and provide a different way to explore this ecosystem in a new light. It is easy to arrange a tour from your hotel or hostel or one of the many tourist agencies in Suaraha. Costs range from $25 to $210 depending on how many people are in your group. You can also get elephant back safaris although these are being phased out due to the cruelty involved in keeping captive elephants.
Best time to visit: the best time to visit for wildlife sightings is during the hotter months of April and May, when animals head for the dwindling waterholes, just before the monsoon rains make roads impassable. September to November is also a good time for wildlife. Temperature wise October to March are pleasant, while June to September are the monsoon months so expect rain.
How to get there: the main access point for the Park is Sauraha, a small town located just outside of Chitwan. Sauraha has a large selection of accommodation, tour agencies, and restaurants so it is a useful base. There is a nice guide here. Road travel in and out of Chitwan is possible but the roads are notoriously bad. Tourist buses run from Sauraha to the main destinations of Kathmandu and Pokhara and can take anywhere between 5 and 9 hours. You can also hire a private driver which is slightly quicker. Flying is possible but the safety record isn’t great. The nearest airport is located in Bharatpur 10 km away.
Typical activities: 4×4 safari, bird watching, canoeing, jungle trekking, wildlife watching
Number of reports: 1
Last updated: 2023
WILDLIFE IN Chitwan
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
#1 tiger – 0% OF WILDSIDE USERS (0/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Nepal is one of the top 5 countries on the Global Wild Tiger Population Index with an estimated number of 355 Royal Bengal tigers. After Bardia National Park, Chitwan is the best place in the country to see these magnificent creatures. Chitwan is estimated to support a population of between 90 and 130 tigers. It forms part of the wider Chitwan-Parsa-Valmiki Tiger Conservation Unit which is made up of two national parks in Nepal and one in India. Together this area covers over 3,500 km2 of grasslands, rivers, and forests that provide fantastic tiger habitat. Chitwan is also one of the only places in the world where you can see tigers while on foot – encountering one of these predators with nothing between you is an unforgettable experience!
While there are a large number of tigers in the Park, they are extremely elusive and difficult to spot – you have more chance of seeing signs such as paw prints, poo, and scratch marks. Despite their fearsome reputation they prefer to hide in the long grass than parade around in plain sight. If you want to see one make sure you spend a few days in the Park – the more time you spend, the greater your chance of a sighting. It is also worth getting as deep into the forest as possible, getting off the main walking tracks, and going on a dedicated tiger safari. This tiger safari recommends a number of places to spot them including Rapti Machan, Tinkune, Dumre Check Post, Bhallori, Tamor Lake, Lamital, and Kata. The best time to spot tigers is from September to November and March to April. During this time, the grass is lower and the jungle is less dense making visibility better.
#2 rhino – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Weighing in at 2.5 tonnes, the greater one-horned rhinoceros, or Indian rhinoceros, is a giant of a creature. Historically, they were found throughout the region but now there are only 2,000 wild rhinos with only two populations supporting more than 100 rhinos: Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India (1,200) and Chitwan National Park, Nepal (600). The Chitwan population was around 1,000 rhinos until the 1950s, when the collapse of the Rana regime which used the area as a hunting forest, and the eradication of malaria, led to a huge influx of people to the area. Predictably, rhino numbers crashed to less than 100 during the late 1960s. The Government stepped in and created the “Gainda Gasti”, an armed Rhino Patrol Unit and established the Chitwan National Park. The population began to increase and it is now up to around 600 individuals making it the second-largest in the world.
These high numbers of rhinos mean that if you spend a couple of days in Chitwan you will more than likely see them. Rhinos live in floodplains where there is a constant supply of water and grass to feed on. Oxbow lakes, rivers, and other open water bodies are also good spots to look for rhinos as they tend to spend up 8 hours a day wallowing in the water, particularly during the hotter months. The best times to see rhinos are early in the morning or late in the afternoon when they come out to the watering holes. They generally disappear into the jungle during the mid-day heat. They have been observed bathing in the river by Suahara in the evening, and even wandering through the village high street!
#3 Sloth bear – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Another of the wildlife stars of Chitwan is the sloth bear. These large shambling creatures are widespread and common within the Park but are difficult to spot. About 200 to 250 individuals live in Chitwan which is one of the highest densities anywhere. Check out this adorable video taken in the Park! Lookout for signs of their presence including paw prints, scrapes, and poo. They feed mostly on termites, and their scrapings are easy to spot as they dig up the earth in big mounds to get at their favourite food. They prefer open grassland areas to denser forests although their distribution follows the availability of food. Trip Advisor sightings appear to peak around March-April, perhaps relating to the abundance of food at this time (we saw one in March).
#4 asian elephant – 0% OF WILDSIDE USERS (0/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
You are likely to see Asian elephants within the Park, however, unfortunately, these are likely to be captive elephants at the breeding centre. Elephant safaris used to be a mainstay of wildlife tourism in the area but are being phased out over time due to concerns over the well-being of the animals. They are still used by National Park staff for excursions deep into the forest that are inaccessible on foot or by jeep. It’s estimated that there are around 25 to 30 living wild in the Park but this is a huge area so sightings of wild elephants are sadly rare. That said, you may get lucky so keep on the look out!
#5 Gharial – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
With their long prehistoric-looking snouts, gharials are an unmistakably unique type of crocodile. Sadly they are critically endangered due to habitat loss, overfishing, and hunting. They are now confined to a few tributaries of the Ganga River in India and Nepal in small, fragmented populations. Chitwan National Park is one of their last refuges, thanks to long-term conservation efforts based around captive breeding and release into the wild. Most tours to the Park will include a trip to the crocodile breeding centre where you can a chance to view these unusual creatures up close. With a population of around 150, you also have a good chance to spot them in the wider Park area thanks to these ongoing efforts. Keep an eye out on a canoe safari to spot them bathing on sandy river banks.
#6 LEOPARD – 0% OF WILDSIDE USERS (0/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Chitwan National Park has one of the largest leopard populations in Nepal with an estimated size of 100 individuals. However, while leopards are found within Chitwan, they are even more elusive than tigers. Bigger and stronger, tigers occupy the best habitat which means that leopards are often pushed into the more marginal forests to avoid competition. This means they tend to be found on the outer edges of the Park and are harder to come across.
#7 langur – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Nepal is home to two types of grey langur monkey – the Nepal grey langur which is found at high altitudes, and the terai grey langur found in the terai area of Nepal such as Chitwan. They are similar in appearance and behaviour although terai grey langurs have longer tails and whiter whiskers. Grey langurs can be found in areas of human disturbance, where there are often fewer predators, so they are relatively easy to spot. Keep your eyes looking up into the trees and listen out for the sound of branches moving above you to spot one.
#8 GaUr – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
With a weight of up to 1.5 tonnes, gaur (or Indian bison) are the largest wild cattle in the world. It’s estimated that there are around 390 in Chitwan, although they can be difficult to spot despite their large size. In areas where humans are present they are mostly active at night. Gaur generally travel in small herds of 5 to 12 animals, with their grazing and movement opening up areas of open grassland for other species to feed in. TripAdvisor reports suggest March is a good time to see them (we spotted them in March when we visited). If you do encounter a herd of gaur it is an exhilarating experience seeing them walking through the forest. These enormous animals are not to be messed with, and guides take care to avoid disturbing them if you encounter one on a walking safari.
#9 mugger crocodile – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The other type of crocodile you can find in Chitwan is the mugger or marsh crocodile. These are very much more recognisable as crocodiles than the strange-looking gharials, with large broad snouts. Muggers are freshwater species and can be found in the stagnant water of marshes, lakes, reservoirs, oxbows, lakes, and slow-flowing rivers. Throughout Chitwan, they are easy to spot basking in the sun along the river banks. Canoe safaris are a great way to see them up close.
#10 peacock – 100% OF WILDSIDE USERS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
In addition to the top ten, Chitwan is also home to a range of other species including kingfisher (100% of WildSide users reported sightings), grey heron (100%), osprey (100%), ringed plover (100%), and wild boar (100%).
Photo credit: Ma_Frank under a Creative Commons licence from Pixabay