With Chitwan becoming increasingly mass-market, BARDIA NATIONAL PARK, northwest of Nepalgunj and the largest area of undisturbed wilderness left in the Terai, beckons as an unspoiled alternative. Budget lodging is widely available, but there’s nothing like Chitwan’s commercialism, and the distance from Kathmandu is likely to shield the park from the masses for many years to come. The area was particularly badly affected during the civil war, and Bardia district had the highest rate of “disappearances” in the whole country.
Ecologically, Bardia spans a greater range of habitats than Chitwan, from thick riverine forest and sal stands to phanta (isolated pockets of savanna) and dry upland slopes. The Geruwa, a branch of the awesome Karnali River, forms the park’s western boundary and major watering hole, and the density of wildlife and birds along this western edge is as great as anywhere in Asia. The Babai River drains the core area to the east of Thakurdwara, forming a sanctuary-like dun valley teeming with game, but it is out of bounds to visitors.
2010 saw the creation of Banke National Park, which borders Bardia to the west and stretches over 550 square kilometres. Together the two parks now form the biggest tiger conservation area in Asia; tourism has not yet developed at Banke, but may well do so in the future.
Bardia in the balance
Bardia in the balance
Nepal’s wildlife parks never sit easily with the inhabitants of nearby villages, who not only are barred from their former woodcutting areas but must also cope with marauding animals. In the case of Bardia, the potential for resentment is especially high, because the government actually reintroduced rhinos to the area, giving local farmers a headache they thought they’d gotten rid of. It’s estimated that half the crops in fields adjoining Bardia are damaged by wildlife (primarily by rhinos and elephants). While local people are still occasionally injured and even killed by wild animals, safety has improved since an electric fence was installed around part of the park.
As in Chitwan, Bardia’s long-term viability depends as much on human factors as ecological ones, and recent initiatives have reflected this. Between thirty and fifty percent of the National Park’s income is spent in the buffer zones, and the number of local Tharu people involved in Bardia’s tourism trade has also increased in recent years. Chitkya Community Forest, along the park’s eastern border, is being managed to allow it to regenerate naturally, providing a source of firewood and increased habitat for animals in the park. Elsewhere, the problem is rather that bushes and trees encroach on the vital grassland needed by deer and tigers, and locals are given controlled access to collect wood.
Other projects prioritize the needs of animals over humans. A notable one aims to create wildlife corridors linking together national parks including Sukla Phanta, Bardia, Banke and Chitwan in Nepal, and Dudhwa and Corbett National Parks in India. Such corridors reflect natural migration patterns, and are seen as vital for maintaining viable breeding populations. They are threatened, however, by deforestation and population growth, which runs the risk of leaving animals marooned in separate national parks. Wildlife corridors are seen as the only way for animal populations to be able to exchange genes without the aid of trucks and tranquillizer guns.