Chitwan was set up in 1973 as Nepal's first national park. Chitwan is an inner doon valley in the central terai of Nepal, between the Siwalik hills in the south and the Mahabharat hills to the north. In the east it is bordered by Parsa Wildlife Reserve. There are numerous small patches of grasslands varying in width from a few metres to 1500 m lying alongside the park’s rivers. Approximately 70% of the park is covered by Sal Shorea robusta forest (Laurie 1979); other lowland forest is riverine Acacia catechu/Dalbergia sissoo and a very small area is tropical evergreen forest. In the hills there is Chir Pine Pinus roxburghii and Terminalia-Agoneissus deciduous hill forest. The wetlands comprise the three major rivers of the park, the Narayani, Rapti and Reu, and their floodplains, which include several small lakes and pools and riverine forests (Gurung 1983).
The high total of 540 bird species has been recorded in Chitwan (Baral and Upadhyay 1998, Giri 1998, Giri et al. 1998, Giri and Choudhary 2000a,b,c, 2001, 2002, 2003, Tamang 2002). Species status given here is taken from Baral and Upadhyay (1998). As many as two-thirds of Nepal's globally threatened bird species have been recorded in Chitwan. The site is especially important for several grassland species, including Bengal Florican, Grey-crowned Prinia Prinia cinereocapilla and Slender-billed Babbler Turdoides longirostris, and also for Lesser Adjutant. It is the only Nepalese locality where the Slender-billed Babbler has been recorded and it may support a larger population than any other area in the Indian subcontinent. Chitwan is the only Nepal site where Grey-crowned Prinia is common and it may also hold the largest population in the species’ range (Inskipp and Inskipp 1991, Baral 2002c). The globally threatened Indian Spotted Eagle has bred in the park, one of its few known breeding localities in Nepal. The large proportion of 15 out of 23 of Nepal's near-threatened birds has been found in Chitwan. Well over half of them are wetland birds. Kashmir Flycatcher, a rare passage migrant to Chitwan, is the only restricted-range species recorded in the park and is also globally threatened. The park has large areas of grasslands as well as dry tropical and subtropical forests. These habitats are known to support significant populations of species characteristic of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, Indo-Malayan Tropical Dry Zone and Sino-Himalayan Subtropical Forest biomes respectively.
Non-bird biodiversity: More than 50 species of mammals have been recorded at Chitwan. A large number of globally threatened species occur including; Indian Rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis (two thirds of its world population), Gaur Bos frontalis, Asian Elephant Elephas maximus, Nilgai Boselaphus tragocamelus, Serow Capricornis sumatraensis, Tiger Panthera tigris, Asiatic Wild Dog Cuon alpinus, Striped Hyaena Hyaena hyaena, Sloth Bear Melursus ursinus, Chinese Pangolin Manis pentadactyla, Ganges River Dolphin Platanista gangetica, Smooth-coated Otter Lutrogale perspicillata, Gharial Gavialis gangeticus, Mugger Crocodile Crocodylus palustris etc (Laurie 1982, Gurung 1983, Hilton-Taylor 2000).
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
In 1983 UNESCO declared the park a World Heritage Site because of its importance as a global biodiversity reserve. Habitats close to roads through the park suffer from disturbance by tourists. Some areas close to tourist lodges, especially grasslands, suffer from disturbance from too frequent tourist elephant rides and also from traffic on park roads that pass through the grasslands. Tourist numbers increased sharply from 8,464 in 1981 to 31,336 in 1989, 64,749 in 1994 and over 100,000 in 1998 (Inskipp and Inskipp 2001b). Numbers have fallen markedly since 2001 due to the security situation but are likely to rise in the future. Pollution, such as litter of plastic items and tin cans in areas close to lodges, also increased as tourist numbers rose. If not carefully regulated, activities from tourist jungle lodges may harm the welfare of animals. Only very few lodges are sensitive to such issues.
Inadequate grassland management, such as burning and ploughing are inadvertently carried out in the birds' breeding season. This threatens grassland birds including some globally threatened species, such as Bengal Florican which have declined (Baral 2001, Baral et al. 2002, Tamang et al. 2001). Inskipp and Inskipp (1983), Tamang et al. (2001), Baral (2001) and Baral et al. (2002) have recommended grassland conservation measures sympathetic to bird conservation.
Figures available over a ten year period from 1989 to 1999 for three wetlands in Royal Chitwan National Park revealed a decline in many wetland dependent species (Baral 1999). These data are confirmed by the Annual Waterbird Census on the West Rapti and Narayani rivers in the park (Roberts et al. 2002, Tyabji 2002).
Numerous activities by local communities have been identified as threats to river birds: overfishing, human disturbance, illegal hunting, fuelwood collection, increased use of pesticides, especially on the rice crop, poisoning to collect fish and other fishing activities, cattle grazing, and replacement of forest by agriculture. These activities are increasing. All the major Chitwan rivers – the Narayani, Rapti and Reu are now polluted. The Narayani is the worst affected and is also suffering from pollution from untreated effluent from the towns of Bharatpur and Narayanghat and industrial waste from the Bhrikuti paper mill (Dahal 1999, Subedi 2001, Roberts et al. 2002, Tyabji 2002). None of the large rivers flow through the park but form part of the park boundary where human disturbance is the greatest. This has led to a severe decline in flora and fauna dependent on such water systems (Baral and Inskipp 2004). The spread of the introduced Water Hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes is choking many pools and small lakes in the park.
Another invasive alien plant, Mikania micrantha, is having devastating effects in some terrestrial areas in the park, covering trees, shrubs and the forest floor (Baral 2002a).
A large road bridge has recently been constructed over the River Rapti in the middle of the park near Kasara, the park's headquarters. The purpose of this bridge is to provide a link for a village that lies south of the park, close to the Indian border. This road brings the risk of greatly increased disturbance, poaching and illegal logging, especially if it is extended south into India (Inskipp and Inskipp 2001b).
The local population in the Chitwan valley has substantially increased since the early 1980s and now stands at over 300,000. The park is these peoples’ only source of thatching grass and they are also allowed to collect some forest products. The park also provides some economic benefits through eco-tourism. At the same time local communities continually suffer raids on their crops by protected wild animals, such as elephants and rhinos. Will they continue to put up with these attacks and continue to tolerate setting aside fertile land as a national park?
When the park's buffer zone was established in 1995 the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation started to allocate 50% of park entrance fees for local use in community development projects. This action by HMG/N has given an enormous boost to projects aimed at improving the lives of local people. Two of these projects have been particularly successful. The Parks and People Project (now known as Participatory Conservation Programme) which is mainly funded by the UNDP, works from the grassroots upwards to organise local schemes which generate income and small-scale improvements in communities living in the buffer zone.
The King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation is helping to set up community forests and community development projects, such as healthcare, education, water supply and the use of appropriate technology. The Baghmara Community Forest near Sauraha contains 400 ha of naturally regenerated forest and is now of potentially high biological value. The forest is open for local users to collect fodder and fuelwood. It also provides direct financial benefits to local people from tourism, including elephant safaris, birdwatching nature walks and canoe rides (Khatri 1998). Such measures have given local people a real stake in the future of the park and high incentives to protect it. Recent data indicates that the number of people sneaking into the park to illegally collect firewood and fodder had decreased by about 30% (King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation 1997). In addition to these community development programmes, conservation awareness initiatives have been carried out by the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, Bird Education Society (based at Baghmara) and Bird Conservation Nepal.
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Chitwan National Park. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 22/10/2021.