Category: Field Experiences

‘Bend’ it like elephants!

Amid the escalating conflicts between elephants and humans lie our failed attempts of checking the movement of these giant animals. I wonder often as they wander through and beyond the forests. And well, they are meant to be the wanderers in the wild. Unaware, they march- crossing the boundaries and the borders set by humans. Every trench, wall, and fence might just be a set of hurdles- that they attempt to overcome. For this animal of highly complex cognition- everything around them could just be a conundrum to solve.

It was this trench, with a straight retention wall on one side protecting the village from the behemoth ‘trespassers’, that captivated my attention.

When I stood startled- a fear of sliding down- at the edge of that vertical wall- at the periphery of one of the national parks, this first thought that entered my mind was- how?  I bent down to inspect the footprints on the wall- which debossed all the way up and disappeared among the bushes- with the crushed grasses seeking for another life.  As an art by an artist- the mud marks of those sliding legs dazzled my thoughts.  Not because they were of elephants- but because there were calves’ footprints too!

How they might have climbed down? Or up, in that case?  That victimized village, on the other side of that trench, stood as flabbergasted as me!

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The gust of wind brought to me that strong smell of fresh dung piles from below. I requested my field brothers to climb down and collect- as I feared that I might topple over. I broke-and-opened the dung. Sprinkled with the seeds of Raggi and jack-fruits, their ordure proved that they raided the farm- must be a night ago! On their way up- they might have emptied their bowels, I guessed.

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This is one such anecdote amongst hundreds where elephants have demonstrated how they alter their behaviours in response to their altered habitats. Well, this could muddle up many of us who are not just trying to understand the highly intelligent animal- the elephants- but also trying to seek a long-lasting solution to halt the accelerating conflicts between them and us. For, they (elephants) know how to bend (adapt) their behaviours like elephants!

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Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel (From ‘The field notes’)

 

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That random field-thought.


It rains…

The tip-a-tap sound on the jeepsy’s bonnet. Then, the cloud moves down to the Kundakere range. One can hear patting of raindrops on the leaves. The air, now, is cool and filled with the smell of mud. Beside this earthen fragrance, I could also smell something very unwonted. That onset of musth. This makhna is quite old. With those scars on his skin- he must have fought many of the valiant battles with other tusked males to impress his estrous lady-loves. But now, he seem to be relaxed and least bother to our presence. However, one should never belittle the temperament of elephants. Meanwhile, one of the members of a herd hiding behind the Lantana made a squeak. The drizzle landing on his skin could not overtake that onset of flow cascading from his musth gland.

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I wonder- what must be going on his mind. The mud-drenched with the late monsoon and the strong smell of musth diffuses with the fresh breeze climbing up from the moyar-gorge. The rain. The smells. The air. All three mixes up together to make the ambiance-  salacious! This shall bring in the fate of the many future offspring. I thought of wishing- let you sire and your genes cover the hills. But- that concealed fear abruptly entered into me. I remembered- what if they cross this ‘demarcated territory’. Things are going to be hard and harsh. The soft drizzle was still adorning the windshield like a canvas. A million of them. I left the site and move ahead- with many thoughts fluxing in and out…


Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel,

During Bandipur National Park Field work,

31st November, 2015

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

Beyond the woods…

[Note: Keeping aside the scientific discourse, I thought of sharing these poetic thoughts. Being in the wild- has always given me an opportunity to explore myself and this nature around me. On the top, observing elephants in the wild, gives you this contentment- indefinable! It was my field work in Hassan that inspired me to write this poem when I was following a herd of elephants through human-settlements and coffee-bushes. It is entirely different experience, I must say, to observe these magnificent creatures enmeshed in the complexity of changed-ecological arena. A reality, in fact. Albeit, a sad one! One of my field-experiences, I could say. Sharing it.]


Beyond the woods…

The thuds and the squeaks…

And then, this silence…

Of the concealed clatters…

Fills the humid ambiance…

The splash of the mud…

And the hovering wasps…

Somewhere behind the bamboos…

Rests the mighty trunk…

Smelling the sweat of wild flowers…

Intoxicated…

Yet, vigilant!

As grey as the rock,

Submerged in the land…

Where thousands of them

Might have crossed…

Along the trails…

As verdant as the grasses-

Munched somewhere beyond the woods!

Ahead they move-

Calmly…

The withered leaves under their feet,

Like a globe of furs!

Inside those tiny hamlets…

Scattered….

Hither, thither and yon…

Sleeps that fear-

A fear of being crushed…

A fear-

That rises with the rise…

Of that wild moon!

With a hush-

A heart pound can hear!

The slumber with the eyes-

As open as the sky!

Somewhere in the woods-

The screech of  that owl…

Strikes those mighty ears…

Flap and flap…

And the stillness, again!

The ripples in the puddle…

The cologne…

Of the ripen grains…

Barriers of no border!

And the emancipation…

Of the abiding caravan!

Righteousness, the nature did…

Rivers, lands and forests…

Theirs, it was…

And it will be…

As elderly as the twisted boughs…

They have caressed…

Each fragment of it!

The lush green forests-

Hence…

Hide the massive giants…

Whose fates  are written-

In their night soils-

With the sadness hidden underneath…

And the exhilaration in the air…

They march-

As silently as…

The wild moon above…

The silhouette-

Of trunks, tusks and the strength!

As vivid as the pool nearby-

They march-

To the next crop-field…

And,

The journey continues…

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-Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel


Photo credit (https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/474x/2c/27/10/2c27101d9fe759fff408a51c422a02cc.jpg)

From Field-Diary: Fecalography

27th October, 2013, 13:32, Bandipur Tea Stall:

“…., Bullshit!” (Rough voice from the backdrop wedged my concentration)

I turned around and saw an agonized face of a gentleman (must be a visitor to Bandipur), a terrified adult bonnet macaque with the parted hair-style that flipped smoothly in the opposite poles by the breeze of Bandipur and a spilled-cup of tea. I observed the grubby floor, the paper cup lay helpless whilst the meandering tea being licked by the little opportunistic macaque.

Tea kudi, Amma

The gentleman bought another cup of tea. And this time, he stayed vigilant.

It was neither that gentleman’s voice nor that macaque which broke the castle of thoughts I was in. I blame them, never. After an entire day of quest for sighting an elephant, the word “Bull-shit” took away my attention.  I wonder why they use this word. And why he did!

I paid Amma (tea-stall owner) for the cups of tea we secured-from-macaques-and-had! And we left.

On my way back to the base-camp, I kept on pondering about the word. God must know what shit (fecal sample to be more precise and to be more technical, call it the part of ‘non-invasive technique’) means to me, unlike the people who use that word so trivially.  When my fellow-folks are busy being excited about the sightings of the majestic beasts, my eyes rolls over the grasses, road-side and the bank of rivers to see the piles of night-soils. Fresh and warm!

During field-work, I consider myself the luckiest soul on this earth and beyond if that word knocks me pragmatically, Bull-shit! (Bull-Tusker, Shit-dung)

Fecal-ography…

The early morning prayers of mine include not just sighting an elephant but an elephant-in-action (defecating).  This hunt of hiding-behind-the-bush-and-wait-till-it-drops, gave me the idea of clicking the picture of what-ever-come-across-and-smells-horrible.  Be it dropping, scat or dung! (Uploading some of them…)

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I remember what James Watson said “We used to think our fate was in the stars. Now we know in large measure our fate is in our genes”.

So for all their fate lies in their genes!

And their history?

Probably in their night-soils!

P.S. Images are of wild-animal’s feces

Cautions: And, are worth-not-looking-at during Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner time!

A tale of the tusked-giant and fierce villagers!

They must have heard that munching,
So they came out of their hamlets…
The thuds and the embossed fields…
And a giant was there, to raid…

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With their tiny bullets,
They tried all of the alarms,
To alert this giant,
And to scare his unwanted charms…

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They climbed that thorny tree
Their rags, all torn-out!
They yelled at the top of their voice
This giant seemed ignorant to their shout!

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They ran towards him,
Yes, hundreds of them!
Magnificent, this giant was…
And he won’t deny his fame!

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He raided their crops…
And they want the pay!
Yon, at the edge of every jungle,
This is a story of the usual day…

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[ This poem popped up at around 11:10 am [on 14th March, 2013]  during our venture to track the crop-raiding makhna and the villagers who were chasing it out of their fields, Kalesar, N. Begur Range, Bandipur National Park]

What’s your tongueworm?

Most of you will probably know what a earworm is: a tune or song that gets stuck in your head, that you cant get rid off. But do you know what a tongueworm is? No, not this. Here is what i call a tongueworm: a food or drink which you can’t stop thinking of, especially when you know that there is no way you can have it in the near future. Let me explain.

A little while ago, Sneha and I did fieldwork together in Anshi national park. We would go on long treks looking for birds and mixed-species flocks. Often, this turned out to be quite boring because we saw nothing. And worse still, it would be hot and humid. In these situations, for lack of anything better to do, I would turn to Sneha and yell “green apple granita“. And Sneha would be stuck with a tongueworm:)

(For the animal behaviourist , this might just be a nice example of spite; even I would have really liked a green apple granita at that point!)

So, what’s your tongueworm? Sneha’s is green apple granita. Mine is cold coffee from a place called Shakes N Creams in Madras. What is that one food or drink you crave for in field and have no way of getting it? Instead, what is the first thing you crave to eat/drink when you get back to the city?

Do tell. The person who provides the most surprising answer will be rewarded with the tongueworm of his/her choosing…by ESS!