While Chitwan’s forest ecosystem is healthy at the moment, pollution from upstream industries is endangering the rivers that flow into it: gangetic dolphins have disappeared from the Narayani, and gharial crocodiles hang on only thanks to human intervention. With more than three hundred thousand people now inhabiting the Chitwan Valley, human population growth represents an even graver danger in the long term. Tourism has picked up again, after dropping off considerably during the civil war – the key issue will be to ensure the resultant development is handled in a sensitive, sustainable manner.
The key to safeguarding Chitwan, everyone agrees, is to win the support of local people, and there’s some indication that this is happening. Several organizations run awareness-raising programmes, particularly targeting children, but there has been little government action in this regard. Another pressing problem for the area – and the country as a whole – is a lack of investment in infrastructure, notably roads.
Communities living in the 750 square kilometres around the park receive some state financial support, and compensation is paid for damage caused by wild animals (safety has improved but one or two people are still killed each year). The National Trust for Nature Conservation (w www.ntnc.org.np), funded by several international agencies, is active in general community development efforts such as building schools, health posts, water taps and appropriate technology facilities, as well as in conservation education and training for guides and lodge-owners. They have also been instrumental in helping set up community forests around Chitwan and the prospect of collecting hefty entrance fees from these is turning local people into zealous guardians of the environment.