After about a mile on the main stone trail we cut a path through the forest, a route perhaps used by walkers and guards, and animals. The light changed to cool green, the track was soft to tread, branches stood across the pathway here and there as if saying, “you shall not pass,” and every now and then we felt eyes following our steps. Our voices lowered and only if absolutely necessary we whispered to each other. The only other sounds that swept were of crunching leaves and breaking twigs.
Spotted and barking deer grazing placidly turned around to take a look at us before leaping off into the safety of the forest. Bright-red insects added a splash of color to the green and brown of the jungle. Suddenly, a bird call. Flapping of wings. A peacock soared into the air from a tree ahead of us. Beautiful does not begin to describe it.
We walked on… We stopped. Fresh rhino scat. There was a rhino – or more – in the vicinity. A little further down. Rhino tracks. They seemed to go down to the river – closer to the coolness of the water. Stop. A tiger pug mark. And another. They sauntered down to the water too.
We hiked further. One of our guides turned around and signaled for us to stop. We halted. He stepped through the tall grass and looked down by the river. He then waved for us to come. The guide behind told us to tread lightly. They pointed down to the water. A pair of slightly fuzzy ears and a snout reminiscent of a unicorn greeted us a few meters down. The rest of the animal lay in the water and could not be bothered by eight pairs of eyes staring at it. We were mesmerized. Out of the corner of my right eye, I saw movement in the swamp below. Another rhino walked out of the tall grass. A few seconds later, another emerged – they either greeted each other by butting horns or were just a playful pair. We watched them walk off into the sunset. I chugged the rest of my water as we started to make our way back. Down below was another rhino. We stopped for a few moments to watch as the muddy, segmented body armor of animal caught the rays of the setting sun.
It is an awe-inspiring sight to see a creature on its turf, in its territory. It is at home, relaxed and mighty.
Chitwan boasts 120 tigers, 503 rhinos and a few hundred deer in a 932 kilometer square area.
Nepal is celebrating a zero poaching year. What is admirable about this country is that, in spite of political and economic instability, the country had no poaching.
To someone who’s spent two weeks in Nepal and read a little about the country’s background, economics and politics, it seems that the main industry here is tourism. So it makes sense that the people band together to make sure the resources that put food on their table be protected. Although the same cannot be said of some African countries that also depend highly on tourism.
Officials in Nepal want to double their tiger numbers by 2022, and propose a corridor between Chitwan and Valmiki Tiger Reserve in India to increase genetic diversity of animals. While these are lofty goals, questions arise about the execution of these plans. Will the land support the increase in tigers? Won’t the animals – in such large numbers – pose convenient targets for poachers? Will they be able to maintain more zero poaching years considering India’s conservation efforts are abysmal at best?
Or perhaps the people of Nepal will come together once again, show the world the true meaning of “community forestry” and against all odds, defying all critics will have zero poaching year after year.
What we saw in our two weeks in Himalaya’s home gave us not just a new perspective on forests and forest conservation but images that will stay with us through life. For that, and for all your work in helping beautiful creatures find safe homes: Kudos, Nepal. May the forest be with you.