The Nam Cat Tien sector of Cat Tien National Park is located in Dac Lua commune, Tan Phu district, Dong Nai province. The Tay Cat Tien sector is located in Dang Ha commune, Bu Dang district, Binh Phuoc province. The Cat Loc sector is located in Tien Hoang, Gia Vien and Phuoc Cat II communes, Cat Tien district, and Loc Bac commune, Bao Lam district, Lam Dong province.
The topography of Cat Tien National Park varies greatly among the three sectors. The Cat Loc sector is situated at the western extent of the Central Highlands and, consequently, is rather hilly. Although elevations only reach 659 m, the hills are relatively steep. The Nam Cat Tien and Tay Cat Tien sectors are situated in the lowlands of southern Vietnam, at the foot of the Central Highlands. The topography of these sectors is characterised by low, gentle hills, the highest of which reaches an elevation of 372 m.
The Dong Nai river, the second largest river in southern Vietnam, flows through the national park, forming the western boundary of the Cat Loc sector and the eastern boundary of the Nam Cat Tien sector. The numerous streams that originate in the national park drain into this river. The lowlands in the north of the Nam Cat Tien sector are poorly drained, and support an area of swamps and lakes, which are fed by seasonal flooding of the Dong Nai river.
Cat Tien National Park supports a variety of habitat types, including primary and secondary lowland evergreen forest dominated by species in the Dipterocarpaceae; primary and secondary lowland semi-evergreen forest, dominated by Lagerstroemia spp; freshwater wetlands with open lakes and seasonally inundated grasslands, containing Saccharum spontaneum, S. arundinaceum and Neyraudia arundinacea; flooded forest, dominated by Hydnocarpus anthelmintica mixed with Ficus benjamina; and a range of secondary habitat types, including grassland and areas dominated by bamboo.
Cat Tien National Park was sprayed intensively with herbicides during the Second Indochina War, and logged immediately after. In areas of dense bamboo and grass cover, natural re-growth of trees hardly occurs. Only 50% of the total area of the national park is classified as evergreen forest, semi-evergreen forest or mixed forest. Bamboo forest accounts for 40% of total land cover. The remainder of the land cover consists of wetlands, grasslands and agricultural land.
The flora of Cat Tien National Park includes more than 1,300 species of vascular plants, among which are 34 species listed in the Red Data Book of Vietnam and many valuable timber species, such as Afzelia xylocarpa, Dialium cochinchinensis, Dalbergia oliveri and Pterocarpus macrocarpus.
To date, 76 mammal, 320 bird, 74 reptile, 35 amphibian, 99 fish and 435 butterfly species have been confirmed to occur at the national park; and there are unconfirmed records of an additional 32 mammal, 19 bird, nine reptile, four amphibian, 31 fish and four butterfly species. The species confirmed to occur include 16 mammals, 15 birds and eight reptiles that are globally threatened.
Cat Tien is one of the most important sites in Vietnam for the conservation of large mammals. Among the large mammal species that have been confirmed to occur at the national park are Asian Elephant Elephas maximus, Lesser One-horned Rhinoceros, Eurasian Wild Pig Sus scrofa, Sambar Cervus unicolor and Gaur Bos gaurus, of which the later three species reportedly occur at high densities relative to other areas in Vietnam. Of the large mammal populations at Cat Tien National Park, the most globally significant one is that of Lesser One-horned Rhinoceros. This is the only known population of the species in mainland South-East Asia and the only known population of the sub-species R. s. annamiticus in the world. However, the population size and range of this species at the national park has declined over the last two decades, and current estimates put the population size at seven or eight individuals and the range at 6,500 ha.
Cat Tien National Park is also a nationally important site for primate conservation, supporting populations of several primates of conservation concern, including Black-shanked Douc Pygathrix nigripes, Northern Pig-tailed Macaque Macaca leonina and Yellow-cheeked Crested Gibbon Hylobates gabriellae.
Cat Tien National Park is situated in the South Vietnamese Lowlands Endemic Bird Area (EBA), and supports populations of all three bird species that characterised this EBA: Orange-necked Partridge Arborophila davidi, Germain’s Peacock Pheasant Polyplectron germaini and Grey-faced Tit Babbler Macronous kelleyi (Stattersfield et al. 1998, Polet and Pham Huu Khanh 1999a). Cat Tien is also an important site for the conservation of waterbirds. Among the globally threatened waterbird species that have been recorded at the site are White-shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davisoni, White-winged Duck Cairina scutulata and Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus (Polet and Pham Huu Khanh 1999a). Cat Tien National Park includes two Important Bird Areas: Nam Cat Tien and Cat Loc.
Another globally threatened species that occurs at Cat Tien National Park is Siamese Crocodile Crocodylus siamensis. A survey for this species in 1999 found no evidence for its continued occurrence at the national park. However, with the assistance of the WWF project, 30 captive-bred Siamese Crocodiles were subsequently released into the national park, after DNA tests confirmed that they were of pure stock.
The forest at Cat Tien National Park has an important role in protecting the watershed of the Tri An reservoir, one of the most important sources of water for domestic and industrial use in Ho Chi Minh City.
In addition, Cat Tien National Park receives a growing number of domestic tourists, many of whom visit on day or weekend trips from Ho Chi Minh City. The national park is also gaining in popularity amongst specialist foreign tourists, including birdwatchers. The proximity of the national park to Ho Chi Minh City, its location on the route between Ho Chi Minh City and Da Lat city, the well developed tourism infrastructure at the site, and the ease at which wildlife can be seen relative to other sites in Vietnam, are all factors in favour of growth in the tourism sector. However, management of tourism remains weak, and is certainly posing a threat to the biodiversity of the national park. There is, therefore, a need to develop tourism in a controlled and environmentally sensitive manner.