Biodiversity

Nepal’s biodiversity is a reflection of its unique geographic position and variations in altitude and climate. The protected areas add up to 28,585.67 sq km (19.42% of total land cover) of land. There are nine national parks, three wildlife reserves, three conservation areas, one hunting reserve and nine buffer zones. Share of Bio-resources is: Amphibians: 1.0%; birds: 9.3%; reptiles: 1.6%; mammals: 4.5%

ANIMALS

Mammals
Nepal has 185 different mammals found in various parts of the country. The Asiatic Elephant was once found in great numbers in the Bardia National Park in western Nepal, but are now fewer. This park falls on a traditional elephant migratory route from the western Tarai to Corbett National Park in India. The Greater one-horned Rhinoceros can be found in the parks along the Tarai. There are very few wild buffalo left near the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve in the eastern Tarai, but recent reports say their numbers are growing.  The Royal Bengal tiger is an elusive animal found in the national parks. The Gangetic dolphins are found in the Narayani and Karnali rivers along with the Royal Bengal and one horned rhino are endangered species. Rarely seen is the leopard and bear. High in the Himalaya are found the even more elusive snow leopard. Other mammals that live in high altitudes are the Yak, blue sheep, tahr and musk deer.  The jungles of the southern tarai have sloth bear, monkeys, langur, chital or spotted deer, barking deer and many other species. In the Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve in the south west corner of Nepal there are herds of swamp deer, while the endangered blackbucks are found in the Bardia region. The Nepal Government has made an effort to preserve the blackbuck by declaring an area of 15.95 sq.km. in Bardia as Blackbuck Conservation Area where they are now thriving. Nepal has an amazing variety of mammals such as hyenas, jackals, wild boar, antelope, wild cats, Red panda, otters, wolves and others. Most animals are found in the Chitwan National Park while the Red Panda is encountered in the Langtang National Park and Kanchenjunga Conservation Area. Otters are found in the Rara lake in the Rara National Park. In the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve are found the blue sheep and tahr.

Reptiles
Nepal has two indigenous species of crocodile: the fish eating gharial with the long narrow snout and the marsh mugger which is omnivorous, eating anything it can catch. A very successful breeding project has brought the gharial back from extinction. Some of the snakes found in Nepal are: cobras, kraits, vipers and the Indian Python. Other reptiles found in the country are turtles and monitor lizards. Some of these reptiles can be seen in the Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park.

Birds
Nepal has 874 recorded species of birds. Amazingly, half of these birds can be seen in Kathmandu valley alone. However, a keen bird watcher can travel the length and breadth of Nepal doing little else but bird watching. In Nepal, bird watching is possible from the tarai in the south, in the middle hills right up to the Himalayas in the north.

There are four major areas that are rich in bird life within the Kathmandu valley, and one can begin right from the banks of the Bagmati River that flows through this city or the Manohara River that flows down Bhaktapur. Birds sighted along these rivers are: egrets, herons, kingfishers, ibisbill, Wood sandpipers and plovers etc. The Chobar gorge is also a good area for birds as its isolation from human habitation encourages their presence. Phulchowki is a popular site, with a Red-headed Trogan, a very rare bird sighted there in April 2000. Phulchowki is 2,760 m in height and 18km south-east of Kathmandu, and can be reached via Godavari. The hillside is covered with forest featuring outstanding flora as well as a rich variety of birds. About 90 species have been recorded in this area including the endemic Spiny Babbler, which was thought to be extinct until it was spotted in Nepal. Other birds found are: Cutia, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Rufous Bellied pied woodpeckers and the Black-throated parrotbill, to name a few. Migratory water fowl also arrive in the winter, staying in the Tauda lake until spring.

Other birding sites in the valley are the Shivapuri National Park, 12km north of the city, and Nagarjun in the north-west. Shivapuri can be reached two ways, either from Sundarijal or Budhanilkantha. Koshi Barrage together with Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve in the eastern Tarai is one of the best habitats for water fowl and waders and harbors an amazing variety of birds. The Koshi has about 26 varieties of ducks alone. Birds can be viewed during walks or by boat, gliding through the waters in the stillness of the early morning and evenings. 485 species have been sighted here, including Black ibis, Honey kites, ospreys, Black headed orioles, Peregrine falcon, partridges, ruddy shelduck, storks, vultures, eagles, etc.

Chitwan is in the lowlands of Nepal, known as the Tarai. Chitwan National Park is one of the best known sites in Nepal for bird-watching. In Pokhara, the forests around the banks of Phewa Lake and Begnas Lake are ideal for bird watching, particularly in the less inhabited areas. In winter, around Phewa Lake you find egrets, herons, pipits, buntings plus gulls, terns, ducks and falcons. Begnas Lake has slopes and wet fields surrounding it, where ducks, pheasant-tailed Jacana, Happie Grey Bellied tesias, and bulbuls are seen.

Bardia National Park is covered with Sal forest and riverine forest and grassland much like Chitwan, but this park has the mighty Karnali river flowing through the park. Boating on the Karnali is a great way to watch herons, cormorants, orials, and many more. The higher regions of Nepal along trek routes are good for birdwatching too.  A rare bird known as Jerdon’s Baza was sighted in Nepal.

Over the past few years a conservation group has worked specifically in the Lumbini area to conserve the Sarus Crane. Wetlands have been constructed in the Lumbini area to provide refuge for Sarus Cranes and other wetland birds. In Chitwan, endangered vultures are being protected from contaminated food by establishing what is known as the Vulture Restaurant which feeds them safe carcasses. Nepal’s national bird is the Impeyan Pheasant known as Daphe in Nepali.

Butterflies
Butterflies have been studied in Nepal for over 150 years, with much of the original study and collection done by the British, including one or two British Residents (i.e. British Consuls of the day). After 1950 the Japanese became involved in collection through scientific expeditions, and this resulted later in the establishment by Tribhuvan University of the Natural History Museum at Swayambhu in 1974. Butterfly

The record books state that Nepal has 11 out of the 15 families of butterflies in the world, or over 500 species, and still today in the 21st century new species keep turning up. It is said that you never really know with Nepal’s butterflies; they just may turn up unexpectedly . From 1974 to 1981, only a period of seven years, a further 24 specimens or sub-families were added to the records, and in 1981 two alone, the BLUE DUCHESS and the SIKKIM HAIRSTREAK were discovered, with this last one known only from a single specimen from Sikkim, with this one female found in 1981 in Godavari, Kathmandu Valley ; and later in 1986 an entirely new race of the CHINESE HAIRSTREAK turned up. The original collectors were not allowed outside the Kathmandu Valley, so much of their research documented only the valley. Only after 1950 when Nepal opened up to expeditions and limited tourism, did the butterfly collectors venture outside the valley.

Nepal is divided into 5 regions based on altitude, and the seasons are specified as Spring, Pre-monsoon, Summer-monsoon, Post-monsoon, Autumn and Winter. In winter below 3,000 metres.

Within the Kathmandu Valley, the climate which is quite mild with day temperatures reaching 18ºC in mid-winter, there are butterflies all the year round. The best seasons for butterfly watching are late March/April, mid May/ mid June, late August/September. There are forested areas in the valley which are still remarkable places for butterflies, and they include open country near Chobar and there is very little activity except for the very common Oriental Species, with the distribution of butterflies in Nepal being quite specific with about 10% of the butterflies being Palaearctic species above 3,000 metres, and about 90% Oriental species Swyambhu; the base of the hills and forest streams at Godavari, Nagarjun, Budhanilkantha and Sundarijal; the forested hilltops of Phulchowki, Jamachowk and Shivapuri, and the open scrubby bush areas of Nagarkot , Suryavinyak and Chandragiri.

There are about 20 Kathmandu Valley species on the endangered or vulnerable list. Outside the valley in the areas of the National Parks scattered throughout the country, the butterflies too are in profusion, and in undisturbed areas away from settlements are the ideal places to sit and watch.

Flora
Records from 2006 show that Nepal has 6,391 flowering plant species representing 1,590 genera and 231 families whereas in 1997, they recorded 4,259 species representing 1,447 genera and 194 families. Nepal’s share of flowering plant species is 2.76% of the global total compared to earlier records of 2.36%. Nepal’s share of pteriodophytes is 5.15% compared to earlier records of 4.45%.

There are 2,532 species of vascular plants represented by 1,034 genera and 199 families in the protected sites. Some 130 endemic species are found in the protected sites.
For ecology and vegetation purposes Nepal could be divided into four floristic regions i.e. (a) western (b) north-western (c) central, and (d) eastern, and bio-climatically these are broken down into twenty regions from humid tropical climate to the arid, alpine regions. But for the purpose of identifying Nepal’s flora for the special interest tourist, the following shows the zones from the point of view of altitude i.e. Tropical zone (below 1,000 m), Sub-tropical Zone (1,000 to 2,100 m), Temperate Zone (2,100 to 3,100 m), Sub-alpine Zone (3,100 to 4,100 m), the Alpine Zone (4,100 to 4,500 m), and the Alpine Steppe region.
There are 399 endemic flowering plants in Nepal of which about 63% are from the High Mountains, 38% from the Mid Hills, and only 5% from the Tarai and Siwaliks. Similarly, the central region contains 66% of the total endemic species followed by western (32%) and eastern regions (29%).

Fossils
To the geological world, Shaligram is one of the coiled chambered fossil shells of the extinct Cepalopod Mollusks that came into existence as part of the initial emergence of the Himalayan heights from the depths of the Tethys-sea millions of years ago. The Nepali, however, sees the Shaligram from a religious aspect because of its embodiment of Vishnu, one of the major manifestations in the Hindu Trinity. Puranas like Scanda, Padam and Baraha written around 2000 years ago, give an exhaustive account of Shaligram, which are divided into a wide variety of color, shape and size. They can be found in the north of the Nilgiri range right up to Damodar Kunda, and also in the waters of the Kaligandaki river right up to Tribeni in Dolalghat. However, the most popular belt is on the banks of the Kaligandaki river at Jomsom where pilgrims who pass through on their way to Muktinath search for a wide variety of Shaligrams.

Medicinal Plants
Medicinal plants, Ayurveda and the Himalayas are intertwined in a very special manner and Nepal, with a large section lying in the Himalayan region, has special significance. Medicinal plants are used in traditional rural remedies, Ayurvedic medicines, Homoeopathic medicines, and many of them find a place in allopathic medicine as well.

There are thousands of species easily available and most of them are only available in the Himalayan Zone. The demand for these herbs is high and they can be cultivated on a large scale, but care must be taken to preserve these species of medicinal plants.
 
Some of the important and well-known medicinal plants are: Alpine & sub-alpine medicinal plants: Aconitum Spp., Picrorrhiza scrophularaeflora, Swertia multicaulis, Rheum emodi, Nardostachys jatamansi, Ephedra gerardiana, Cordyceps sinensis, Dactylorhiza hatagirea.
Tropical and sub-tropical medicinal plants: Terminalias, Cassia fistula, Cassia catechu, Aegles marmelos, Rauwolfia serpentina, Phyllanthus emblica, Ricinus recemosus, Acorus clams, Acacia concinnity, Butte monster.
Temperate zone medicinal plants: Valeriana wallichii, Berberis, Datura, Solanum, Rubia, Zanthoxylum armatum, Gaultheria fragrautissima, Dioscorea deltoidea, Curulligo orchoidies.
Some of the regions where medicinal plants are abundantly found are: the Tarai region of Nawalparasi, Chitwan, Bardia, Dhanusha, Mid-hilly Region of Makhwanpur, Syanja, Kaski, Lamgjung, Dolakha, Parvat, Ilam, Ramechhap, Nuwakot, and the Himalayan region of Dolpa, Mugu, Humla, Jumla, Manang, Mustang and Solukhumbu.

Orchids
In ancient Rome, Theophrastus, a student of Plato, was intrigued by the sight of a plant with a pair of roots. Orchis was the name he gave them, the Greek word for testicles. Worldwide, there are some 500 to 600 genera and some 20,000 to 35,000 names, the largest of all plant families, and out of this, Nepal has 57 genera (27 Terrestrials and 30 Epiphytic) with a few Lithophytes. Spread over a large area in different ecological zones, from the foothills of the Himalayas to the plains in the Tarai, orchids are quite widespread in Nepal giving nature lovers and horticultural experts a treat.

Some beautiful terrestrial orchids that flower during July-August have a stem with only two leaves and purple flowers while another orchid from the same genera in west Nepal blooms orange-green flowers during February-March.

Greenish fragrant orchid flowers bloom in March-April around the Godavari area and in Shivapuri and Kakani, orchids with white or pale yellow flowers are seen. During September-October, Sundarijal comes alive with green orchids streaked with purple, and on the way to Daman, pale mauve orchids line the banks of the road in November. All of the areas mentioned above are accessible in a couple of hours or less from Kathmandu. Further away in Dhankuta and Hetauda, there are bright yellow orchid flowers while in Khandbari, purple-brown orchids with pale borders are found.

Nepal is endowed with an incredible variety of orchids scattered across the country. Dedrobium is the largest species, followed by Habenaria and Bulbophyllum. Anthogonium, Hemipilia and Lusia are some of the other varieties amongst the nearly two dozen single species families.

Rhododendron
During spring, between March and May, the hills burst into brightly colored flowers.  These Rhododendron flowers can be seen in all the hilly regions of Nepal above 1,200m.  More specifically, the middle mountains vertical belt between 2000 and 4000m serves as the ‘wild’ preserve of the Rhododendron, or Gurans as it is known in Nepali.

There are four major areas that are specified for Rhododendron treks -
1.    Milke Danda-Jaljale Himal, a transverse mountain range which separates the two river systems of the Tamur and the Arun
2.    Upper Tamur River Valley
3.    Makalu Barun National Park
4.    The Langtang Valley inside Langtang National Park

Nepal has 30 indigenous species of Rhododendron, and one which is endemic to Nepal and not found elsewhere, is R. lowndesit. It has lemon or creamy yellow flowers, which are short, well-shaped and are solitary or in pairs on the stem. It grows in the drier areas of western Nepal near Muktinath and Phoksundo.

A Rhododendron Trek to the Upper Tamur River begins with a flight to Bhadrapur followed by a drive to Ilam, which is a well-known tea growing region of Nepal. Trekkers can make an interesting side trip to a tea plantation and observe the fascinating process of manufacturing tea. The trek starts on the south-west side of the Kanchenjunga area and the upper valleys of the Tamur River system. Trekkers enjoy grand views of forests resplendent in rhododendron bloom which the region is famous for.
 
And closer to Kathmandu, Dhunche at 2000 metres is a 5 to 6 hours drive away. Treks to the upper areas of the Langtang Valley begin here. This region boasts of nine species of rhododendron.