We were ordering a coffee when we found out.
“Did you see the rhino going through town the other night?”
I did a double take. “What do you mean?”
A month ago I didn’t know there were rhinos in Nepal. Yet in almost every travel agency in Kathmandu you could see posters of the animal. It was the same photo every time. Well nearly; happy tourists sitting on elephants walking through waist high grass looking at rhinos. It looked like something from the British Raj, but in colour and with less guns.
I immediately added Chitwan to our itinerary. If there was a chance to see rhinos I was there. Sure they’d be difficult to see. Everyone knows rhinos are endangered…
“It walked right past the coffee shop.”
Impossible. The coffee shop was on the busy high street that cut through Sauraha. There’s no way that you’d see a rhino simply strolling through town.
You have to walk through the jungle for days like David Attenborough to see rhinos. He had to be pulling my leg.
“I don’t believe you. Show me.”
We spent the next 10 minutes behind the counter looking through his Facebook feed. Sure enough there it was. A huge rhino calmly walking through the middle of the street surrounded by a crowd of tourists with cameras flashing.
This was not an endangered rhino. In fact the Greater One-Horned rhino is one of those rare success stories.
In the 1950’s there were more than 1,000 rhinos in Chitwan National Park. Ironically the fact that only the Nepalese royal family was allowed to hunt rhinos played a big part in their preservation.
The collapse of the Rana regime and the draining of the swamps brought drastic change to Chitwan. Within less than two decades the wild population of Indian Rhino in Chitwan dropped to less than 100. By 1975 there were just 600 individuals in the whole of the Sub-Indian continent.
Luckily for the rhinos, and indirectly for tourism, the government decided to act. In 1961 the Government of Nepal established an armed Rhino Patrol to halt poaching.
In the ensuing decades the population steadily rose. Today the population of Indian Rhinos in Chitwan is near 600. From 2014-2016 there was just one case of poaching in the National Park. Impressive when you think just how close to China Nepal is, which brings us nicely back to…
“Yes. He’ll come here tomorrow. 7:30. Come to the cafe and you’ll see him.”
So that’s what we did.
The next day, along with a crowd of tourists, we waited for the rhino to appear. The first we heard of him was when the lady selling sweets across the road ran up to the café and tapped on the glass door.
The rhino slowly strolled through the center of town followed by a crowd of tourists with phones and cameras flashing. It was like the arrival of a minor celebrity. The fact that this celebrity weighed more than two tons and was potentially very dangerous ensured nobody got too close.
In less than ten minutes it was over. The crowds had disappeared and I assume the rhino had already started on his first course of rice and angry farmer.
And this happens every other day.
You could set your watch by the rhino. Every two days he’d cross the river from the national park, walk through the center of town and head over to the farmers rice fields on the other side of town. Then in the early morning, after feasting on a field of rice, the rhino would return to his home in the park.
We followed the rhino into the park the next day on a walking tour. We saw just one rhino cooling off in the river and an elephant, but never saw a tiger. It was a beautiful day. Chitwan was one of the highlights of our time in Nepal.
Have you ever been to Chitwan National Park? Did you see a rhino? Share your thoughts in the comments below.