Walking through the woods, searching for gentle giants (Mysuru, India)


Rohith B R, Times of India

Date Published

See link for photo.

The mist still clung loosely to the roots of the trees as the sun shone feebly through the treetops at the Nugu Wildlife Sanctuary in HD Kote taluk, Mysuru. As the forest stirred awake at 7am, the volunteers and forest officers could be seen making preparations for the first day of the elephant census 2017.

With a 10km-long trek through the forest ahead of them, all participants loaded themselves up with water and lunch. The instructions issued to them were clear – scan the length and breadth of a section of the forest while following a circuitous route, and jot down any piece of information that might prove useful for the elephant census. The three-day exercise, being conducted simultaneously in all South Indian states, has drawn people from all walks and professions.Nugu Sanctaury falls under the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, which boasts a large number of tuskers. As we journeyed through the woods, the songs of the birds ringing in our ears, we were treated to the dazzling sight of a peacock opening its rich plumage in all majesty, while a herd of deer watched with fear as we passed it by. However, for nearly two hours, there was no sign of the giant beasts all of us were eager to spot.

Pointing to two sets of huge footprints, forest guard Anudeep S said, “Look at the broken tree branches. Two elephants have been here.”

Mahesh T (name changed), an account executive with a Bengaluru-based firm, shared some of the knowledge that had been imparted to volunteers during the training session conducted before the census. “Broken branches, footprints, vocalisation and feeding signs act as possible detection aids in locating elephants. But we can’t record these two elephants on our data sheets for day 1, since rules stipulate recording only direct sighting,” he said.

After a late breakfast, we resumed our trek through the woods, when a forest watcher stopped and signalled us to stay silent. Par ting the branches of a tree, he pointed towards a muddy pond where we spotted three elephants, including a calf. A wave of elation swept through the team, but there was no time to rejoice. Volunteers had to record the number of jumbos, their gender along with possible age of each elephant, the GPS location and the distance separating the team from the tuskers.

“Let’s move,” said one of the resource personnel. “Elephants are very cautious when young ones are part of the herd. If they get alarmed, there are chances of us coming under attack,” he added.By the time our day ended in the evening, we had sighted, and recorded, five elephants.

On reaching the base camp, reports of the adventures that other teams had had were awaiting us. Nugu’s range forest officer HP Raghavendra said, “A fellow range officer told me a team at Bhadra Forest Santuary sighted a herd of 26 elephants. Let’s hope the number of elephants is growing, because a healthy jumbo population means a healthy forest.”

Assistant conservator of forests Paramesh, who is participating in the third census, said that the forest department was keenly awaiting the census data. “Comparing this year’s data with that of the previous census figures helps us understand issues around jumbos, and aids us in tackling humananimal conflict,” he added.