Recently i got an opportunity to volunteer for Elephant census at Bhadra Wild Life Sanctuary. Its a 4 day work with first day dedicated to training. We were a group of 7 people who went together. Overall there were about 100 odd volunteers including forest guard. The methodology of the census were explained to us on the first day. I don’t want to go into the details as its already explained in my friends blog post. Once we reached our camps we were split up into small groups for tracking.
Day 1: I was to record direct sighting in terms of numbers in the sheet provided. I was accompanied by a forest guard and young boy who knew in and out of the forest. He had an machete to cut through the woods to make path for us to follow. The forest was really dense and we got lost a couple of times and had to find alternate path. Not a very promising start, but i had my trust on these folks to lead me. At the start it looked like every route we took disappeared after a while. I was told in the training that the forest is so dense that even if an elephant is 5ft away its almost impossible to see. I began to realize that its not possible to sight elephants unless we reach less denser patches. After a walk for about 20 mins i was feeling very tired. Iam aware that my fitness level has come down and this had become a mental block for me. I also realized that i was climbing an incline of about 60 deg adding to my problem. Suddenly everybody stopped and i was holding my breath to stay silent. The boy with a machete called me to show a Hump Nosed Pit Viper.
Its a shy snake and disappeared within seconds. After a brief break we moved on to even steeper surface which was almost impossible to climb. At times i had to crawl on all fours to make ground. I asked the forest guard if we would actually spot any Elephants in a steep slope. He admitted that the chances are very slim. At that point i made up my mind that we would not be spotting any animals let alone Elephants. The climb was getting tougher and i was throughly exhausted. The guard took notice of that and wanted to keep me busy. He would point at some trees and identify them with their scientific name. I was surprised at his vast knowledge of vegetation in the jungle. Water is a scarce resource in this part of the jungle and we had just a bottle for 3 of us. We were to pass 3 hills to reach our destination. So when we were on a decent we faced slippery surfaces and i lost my balance couple of times but was able to keep myself from falling. the forest guard however was not so lucky and had a nasty fall. He was not hurt except some bruises. With just 15mins break for 4 hour climb was good. With that pace we reached our halfway point. We had our packed lunch and proceed towards a jeep track. We reached the jeep track around 1:00 PM. From there on it was easy going as there were no hills to climb. Little did i know that we would end up walking 15kms on the road. While we were on the jeep track we spotted a few deers. So the rather uneventful day ended with me totally exhausted. Irrespective of the exhaustion i was unable to sleep at night due to ants crawling all over my body.
Day 2: The second day was relatively easy with just 2km stretch to cover. This time all 3 of us (Me, Ananth and Prashanth) were put together with 2 forest guards and 2 helper boys. As a group of 7 we were to take the reading of Elephant dungs. The day started off on a wet note. It rained heavily for 2 hours and so we delayed the start.
We were sure we will not spot any animals and some of us did not carry a camera too. This work was relatively easy. The only problem we faced were many thorny bushes on the way which left us all scratched up. Couple of us were cut badly. The day ended on a grim note of not having spotted any animals.
We were just relaxing in the evening by the backwaters taking bath when we were told that a huge cobra was spotted. Everyone in the camp rushed to the spot. Me and Ananth were the last and we were not able to run as fast as others. By the time we reached the spot we barely got a glimpse of the great snake. I was told that 3 university students and a driver spotted the snake on the main jeep tack and it was reported to be 14ft in length and was standing 8ft tall talking aim at a monitor lizard. According to them they both were fighting. The King Cobra delivered the lethal blow and the Monitor Lizard was killed within few seconds. Although i did not witness the spectacle, it would have been a sight to behold.
Day 3: We knew this was going to be a lazy day. We were made into 3 teams and were dropped off at various locations. Arun and Myself were in one team with a forest guard. As soon as we were dropped of at our spot, we found a cool spot to settle down for the rest of the day. Our job was to sit and watch the backwaters for animals (Elephants). Within few minutes of us settling down the forest guard asked us come with him. He had sighted a Tusker. We were excited to see the great elephant ourselves. We were hiding behind the bush and shooting videos of the great Tusker. He was there for an hour lazing around near the water hole. It took us some time to fathom courage to go behind the Tusker for better photos. Unfortunately when we reached the spot we were not able to find the Tusker. All was left off him was some excretion.
We roamed around aimlessly for sometime till we spotted a herd of Spotted Deers. They were quite surprised to find us and they took off as soon as we started taking pictures. I think thats the closest i have come to these deers.
After the short walk back to our ‘watch’ spot Arun took a short nap while me and the guard kept watch. The guard decided to sit on the other side to get a better view while i was happy in my place. We had a early lunch. It became very hot and we had to constantly shift places to avoid the sun. I dozed off for about an hour after lunch only to be woken up by red ants feasting on my flesh. I decided to stay awake but i was bored, so i started listening to audio book i had in my ipod. The History Of Western Philosophy is not the best book to read (listen) during a sleepy afternoon, but it was interesting and kept me awake.
Next few hours were rather dull with no animal in sight. I got up and walked up to the guard and tried to chat with him. He pointed out that there were 3 lone objects moving near the water hole and we could not identify it due to lack of binoculars. At that point i asked the guard if we could walk down to that place and take a look. He agreed after a pause and we started walking towards the object leaving behind snoring Arun. We spotted couple of Wild Boars on the other side of the waterhole and decided to take few pictures. Within minutes we saw a small herd of Gaur’s coming towards the Wild Boars. This was fascinating sight to watch from a safe distance. I was hoping that there would be a fight for territory but nothing happened.
Suddenly we herd lots of noise from the other end. We assumed that it was probably the rest of the herd. We were wrong, it turned out to be a herd of Elephants and we were dumbstruck. We hid under a bush and started taking pictures. We could see at least 35 elephants of all sizes. Juvenile Male/Female, Calf’s, Tusker, Fully Grown Female were all there as a pack. I have never seen anything like that. I cursed god for not having a good camera to capture a spectacular sight. I saw a calf trying to drink milk from its Mother while the Tusker gently pushed the calf as if to say “Save it for later! Now Move on!”. I cant forgive myself for missing to capture that moment.
Suddenly couple of Elephants started trumpeting. We got scared and began backing out. On our way we say Arun casually walking on grass lands not aware that there were Elephants very close. We managed to catch his attention and asked him to hide. In that confusion he hurt his leg and it began bleeding. He ignored it and compelled us to come with him to the same spot where we saw the herd. We went back to that spot again only to find 15 elephants and rest have disappeared into the woods. He took his share of photographs and we headed back our place.
On our way back we heard rustling noise coming from the forest. We assumed that it was probably deers and continued to walk towards the view point. Suddenly out of nowhere came a Huge Lone Tusker and was just 10ft distance from us. The guard yelled “run” and we turned back and ran as fast as we can. I would have stopped only after 4 mins to realize that the Elephants went back to woods. That was a very scary experience. Finally we reached the view point, packed our bags and headed out for pick up. It turned out to be very eventful day. That brought the end to the 3 day census.