Rhinos and Tigers and Sloth Bears, Oh My!
Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
57Trip End May 2010
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Look closely...what is that behind us? Why are we up so high?
Here's why, we're riding a gorgeous female elephant!
Chitwan, which means the heart of the jungle, was the first national park in Nepal. Opened in 1973, this 932-square kilometer park was established to protect its amazing wildlife from poachers and preserve the habitat. A convenient stop on the way back to Kathmandu, we traveled here just after our Sun Koshi raft trip to chillax in Sauraha, the main entry point into the park, to appreciate nature and the wildlife within it.
Enjoying elephant baths in the Rapti river, the river that borders Sauraha and Chitwan National Park! This cuddly and smart gal was so much fun! Just grab her ears, put your feet or legs against her trunk, and up you go!
More like this elephant was giving us a bath!
Check out this video of Lindsey going for an unexpected swim:
Chitwan is made up of three types of habitats: sal forest (73%), grassland (20%), and river line (7%).
Thick sal forest where monkeys, spotted deer, barking deer, sloth bears, and tigers like to hang out.
Lindsey making her way out of a path created by wildlife in the tall grasslands. These grasses can grow up to 10m high! You wouldn't want to be walking through these maze-like grasses and hear a rhino or tiger!
Our guide against river line forest.
We spent the first two days on a jungle walk through the park; a great way to see wildlife up close. We really lucked out and got the best guide in all of Sauraha, and all of Chitwan for that matter! Nakul, our guide, works through the hostel we stayed at, Gaida Lodge, but he also volunteers to protect the animals from poachers and destruction of habitat, participates in wildlife counts, is the resident ornithologist (bird expert), and even takes in orphaned children. He is excellent at spotting animals by sight, sound, and smell, and it's clear he loves his job! We highly recommend him!
Nakul showing Lindsey an endangered Gharial crocodile. There are only 64 Gharials in the park.
Here's what a Gharial croc looks like through Nakul's scope
Nakul gives us an overview of the park from a watchtower
Early starts on the jungle walks really matter. For you hunters, you already know that dawn and dusk are when the animals are moving. Well, when spotting animals for viewing purposes only, the same is true. Here are some of the rewards we got for our early starts!
Michelle and Dan joined us on the first day of the walk. We're crossing the warm Rapti river early in the morning.
The Rapti can actually look a little spooky in the misty pre-dawn light.
Sunrises and sunsets here are exotic pinks and oranges.
Video of the rhino we spotted in the mist crossing the river on the second morning, just as the park opened. This smart little devil was actually outside the park when we spotted him, helping himself to local crops:
Along our two days, we saw many mammals, reptiles, insects, and birds, including:
Great horned rhino (saw 6)
Barking deer (saw many)
Spotted deer (many)
Sambar deer (many)
Elephant (many, domesticated only, though we heard a wild elephant outside our hostel at night looking for his girlfriend in the stables!)
Reese's macaw monkeys (many)
Langur monkey (many)
Sloth bear (Well, we almost saw one. We heard it run away from a tree and saw part of its back for a fleeting second and tried to chase after it in the bush but lost it. In hind sight, I'm kind of glad we didn't have an encounter with it deep in the sal forest :).)
Tiger (We only saw one 4-yr-old in a cage; her mother killed several villagers when the cub was young and they tried to tranquilize it with darts, but its mother died from the darts.)
Gharial crocodiles (three)
Mushmugger crocodiles (four)
Piper snake (one)
Garden lizard (many)
Golden orb spider (one)
Red cotton bug (many)
Darter (snake neck)
Greter cormorant (who migrates from Siberia)
Rudy sel duck (who also migrates from Siberia)
Asian open-billed stork
Green bee eater
Brown fish eagle
"Yellow flame-backed woodpecker
Jungle bobbler bird
And there are hundreds of other species we didn't see, but we still felt pretty lucky! While there are currently 408 rhinos in the park, a rhino sighting is no guarantee with your park entrance fee. We were stoked to see six, including a mother and baby! Even Nakul would give himself fist pumps when he spotted one!
Mother and baby rhino feeding
Here are some more pics of the wildlife we saw on the trip.
Red cotton bug
Golden orb spider
Spotted deer in velvet. These guys are the inspiration for the classic Disney movie, Bambi.
Termite mound, we call "Mini Manasalu"
The tiger that was in captivity. Such a beautiful creature. Here's also a link to a video of her roaming around:
Actually, we got quite close to seeing a tiger on our trip, which is pretty rare this time of year and for only a two-day jungle walk. This print (to the right of Ben's hand) was from a tiger who passed by Tamur Tal (tal means lake) sometime in the night, just hours before we arrived.
While on our jungle walk, we learned some pretty amazing facts from Nakul. For example, the spotted deer and the Reese's macaws have a symbiotic relationship: the monkeys throw down to the deer rhino apples and leaves for the deer to eat, and when the deer cross the river, the monkeys will ride across on their backs. Therefore, where you see Reese's monkeys, there is a good chance you'll also find spotted deer.
There were a lot of other amazing things we learned about the rhino. First, they're big, and heavy. While we knew this, we didn't realize just how big they are. Rhinos can weigh up to 5 (metric) tons! Also, people will drink rhino pee as a medicine for upset stomach because the rhino eats a lot of herbal plants.
Medicinal rhino pee--care for a drink?
Rhino poo (or as some locals accidentally call it, pool...lost in translation I guess). We would have to eat a lot of nachos to make this much poo!
Chitwan is not the only national park in Nepal famous for its wildlife. Bardia National Park sits on the far western side of the country, and where Chitwan is famous for seeing the rhino, Bardia is famous for seeing the tiger. But Bardia has seen better days. Chitwan has guards and check posts all throughout the park to monitor and catch poaching. While it still happens, poaching is not as common in Chitwan as it is in Bardia. A few years ago, Chitwan donated a couple hundred rhino to Bardia to help stimulate the once flourishing population, but today, only a few remain in the park. In one area of the park alone, over fifty rhino carcasses were found, piled together, usually with only their ivory horn removed and taken. This is a sad state of affairs for the park and the animals within it (and the Nepali tourism industry in Bardia). And the best way to keep poachers out is to increase tourism. If more people visit the park, tourism becomes more important to the park and thus saving the animals is a higher priority. If you come to Nepal, do what your part to support the tourism in the nearby towns and keep these rare and amazing creatures alive.
More photos of our Chitwan adventure can be seen on our flickr site: