Some years ago on my birthday we were in Ranthambore National Park, in Rajasthan, and I hoped to see a tiger; we found one! Now here we were in Nepal and I was hoping for a birthday rhino; we found five! But I am getting ahead of myself…
Chitwan National Park was established in the 1970s in an area that was previously a favourite hunting ground for Nepal’s ruling classes. They came to shoot tigers, rhinoceroses, elephant, leopards and sloth bears. Today’s visitors also come to shoot these animals, but thankfully with cameras rather than guns. Today the park has the second largest population of single-horned Asiatic rhinoceros in the world. And while poaching is still a problem here, in recent years the number of rhinos has increased thanks to strong policing in the park, from around 300 in the 1980s to 605 when last counted in 2015. There are also tigers here (though we weren’t to see any) and many other mammal and bird species.
Our safari drive
In addition to me and Chris there were just two others on this drive, another English couple, so there was plenty of room in the rather antiquated jeep. When we set out it was misty, or rather, we were in moist low-lying cloud. It lent a mysterious air to the tracks through the forest but meant that photographing the wildlife was a challenge. We encountered jungle fowl, a peacock, several spotted deer and a wild boar, all partly obscured in the mist.
Rhino number one
Then we came across a rhino, an adult male, also half-hidden by mist. No matter, this was exciting, and I took quite a few barely-successful photos!
Maybe a video would show him more clearly? No, but it would capture the sound of him eating, as well as the other forest noises.
Rhino number two
Eventually we moved on, the mist slowly thinning. We saw more deer, including a muntjac, and some rhesus monkeys.
Then we passed another jeep and it seemed to me that the guides were exchanging information about sightings. And probably they were, as soon afterwards we found rhino number two, another adult male, in the water. We were much closer than we had been to the first one, and the mist had cleared, but here it was reeds and grasses that partly obscured him. Our driver helpfully climbed out to bend some back, which improved the view somewhat.
As with our first sighting we spent some time here watching him eat and taking photos, and our guide Danny made sure everyone was happy before we left him to his meal.
Rhino number three
It didn’t seem long before we met rhino number three, and again an adult male. And this time we were really close, maybe ten metres! He was eating grass near a fence (built around a village, not around the national park, which is unfenced). And he was being, watched not only by us but by three young local lads on the other side.
This unzoomed photo, with part of the jeep in the foreground, gives an idea of how close we were. You can see one of the village houses just beyond the fence.
Rhino number four, and …
We spent a long while with that rhino of course, but eventually turned back. We stopped by a tall lookout tower and Danny asked if we would like to go up. All four of us did so and it was worth the climb up the steep stairs as the landscape in front of us was beautiful.
Then we realised that Danny, who’d stayed down below, was gesturing towards the undergrowth at the foot of the tower and we heard rustling there. The noise grew louder as we all speculated what it might be. We saw branches move before we saw the animal, which proved to be rhino number four. And not just number four but number five too, as this was a female with her calf!
We watched from above for a while then Danny beckoned us down. We had to move quickly and quietly as we boarded the jeep, as the rhinos were still close. Danny commiserated with us that the undergrowth had been too high to see the calf. But of course we had seen it, from above!
That was our last sighting of the morning but a great one on which to finish a very successful birthday hunt.
I visited Chitwan NP in October 2022