When I mistook the heap of stones…

“Behind,
Yon side of the bush
I hear that clunk!
Four tiny legs and the trunk…
Smells this stranger
And hides beneath his mom…”

Wrote these lines, when I saw a month old elephant calf hiding behind his mom- as he sensed my presence with his tiny trunk, somewhere in the forests of Nagarhole.

Being in the wild gives you a chance to see how life grows in the wilderness. Here, I write one such illustration.

12th November, 2013:

After having a quick lunch in the Mangala village near Bandipur National Park, we entered the bandipur range. I was planning to go towards  a range named Kundakere.  I could see dozens of black clouds hovering around. “It might rain”, I whispered to myself. The day was pleasant, but with no movement of animals. The verdant turfs after the showers, in fact made me feel, it was a pleasant day- indeed. I could feel the post-lunch lethargy reigning over me. I yawned…

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After 300-400m past the chain-gate, I saw the herd of elephants grazing. I was delighted. One more luckier day, I thought. I counted the number of individuals. Seven. Great. If at least three of them defecates, I was delighted again-my bag will be full of what-I-am-in -search-of. And, my hiding-behind-the-bush session started. I observed. Slowly, six of them traversed the Lantana thickets and moved away. Leaving behind the single calmly grazing adult female.

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As a part of my work, I started noting down all the details that I could gather. It was more than an hour that this female had barely moved from the place where she was standing. I got a bit perplexed. Many assumptions started popping in my head.

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She grazed. And, grazed. With no signs of movement. And of course, no signs of defecation. I started scanning the place she was standing on. If in case, I could see a fresh pile of her night-soils. I saw withered bamboo shoots, blooming Lantana, the crushed grasses and a heap of what seemed to me- the stones.

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After an hour and a half, she stopped grazing and stood still. This made me more curious about her. Did she sense my presence? Should I leave this hideout and run? Is she resting now? Hmm, a victim of a post-lunch lethargy like her observer? Something was physiologically wrong! I assumed.

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Then, I saw something astonishing. A heap of stones. I zoom-ed my camera lens towards it. Flabbergasted! I saw, it’s a calf. And his mom was gently pushing his head with her right foreleg.

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Within a few fractions of minutes, one more member got added to the number that I counted. Eight! A newborn baby. Might be, a week old.  Such a tiny creature will someday grow as tall as his mom.

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He was resting, then. He started playing with his trunk. And gently moved towards his mother. She stood vigilant.

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The one moment that takes your heart away when you are in the wild and observing a herd of elephant- is the moment when they share their bond. Affection filled the ambiance. And his mother started moving  with a very slow pace, so that he could follow her. He rubbed his tiny body against her foreleg.

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Based on my personal observations, I have seen the elephants moving very slowly when they are with calves. She was doing the same. The calf went under her hind-legs and came out again. Wonderful, I thought.

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This calf was tiny. I thought. One fine day- he will be a majestic trunk-ed mammal roaming freely in the forests. Engineering the ecosystem. Dispersing the seeds. Aiding other herbivores, too. My understanding about this species is still on the threshold. And, I still continue to see them and get delighted- every single time. The more you observe them, the more fascinated you will be towards understanding their behavior, their bond and them as a whole.

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He suckled. Lifted his tiny head. It seemed to me that he was confused with his tiny trunk. As he stopped in between suckling milk and started playing with his trunk.

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Throughout these moments, his mother remained calm, vigilant, but kept on moving slowly. To keep him safe. I felt, she sensed me. On the backdrop, I could hear the thrashing of dead bamboo branches and boughs; sniffs and puffs throughout. The six of them are around.

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He suckled, again. While his mother kept on moving forward. The day was wrapping up. And the dusk preparing for its duty. Heard a trumpet from one of the members of the herd. Before they disappeared into the thickets- I zoomed my camera lens and clicked the photo of the calf. Wonderful, I thought again.

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My day was done. I was delighted, though I could not collect a single bolus of dung. But I felt-content. For, I saw how life grows. As I saw- what many of us  had not seen and probably will not be able to see- if the current rate of disturbance persists. I saw the calf, it was not just a calf for me, but a new story that shall grow and write his fate on his own. If he is fortunate, he will travel across the greenness, sire his offspring, mend the landscape and live happily. If he is not, he will enter someone’s land, will be chased away, will be ambushed with human-aggression and if he turns out to be a tusker- threats shall encircle him throughout his life. I wish the former to happen.

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While I was pondering about all this, the herd joined and disappeared into the thickets. I could see the fading silhouettes against the setting sun…

-Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel

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