The great tracts of natural grassland (phanta) in Nepal’s extreme southwest could almost be mistaken – albeit on a smaller scale – for the savannas of East Africa. SUKLA PHANTA WILDLIFE RESERVE, south of Mahendra Nagar, is dotted with them, and touring the reserve is, for once, really like being on safari. Always hard to reach, Sukla Phanta was even more cut off during the civil war, and as a result attracts barely a trickle of visitors. The park is home to one of the world’s largest populations of swamp deer – sightings of a thousand at a time are common – as well as a number of wild elephants and several rhinos. The tiger population has declined dramatically from 20–50 in 2005 to an estimated 6–14 in 2008 as a result of poaching; a sad turn of events for a park that once boasted one of the highest densities of the species in Asia. Sukla Phanta remains astonishingly rich in birds, with 470 species having been counted. Rare species include the Bengal florican and the giant hornbill.
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