Posted in Environment

Review: Tipu, Sultan of the Siwaliks – Amritaraj Christy Williams

As someone passionate about wildlife and especially about the (indian wild) elephants, I searched for such a book to read in Amazon and was happy to discover that it is a very recent publication. Delighted to note that the author is from Kerala although not surprised. I do share his affinity for the elephants so I can deeply feel his emotions for the gentle giants. However, the wild elephants of India, i have had opportunities to watch from a distance only. I have spotted wild elephants in the shoulder areas adjoining the Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary in Tamil Nadu. Second time was in Munnar. Lastly two years back spotted a group grazing the Vazhachchal forests high in the blue mountains (western ghats) in the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. We were on our way to Valparai where we doublebacked to head to Thrissur wherefrom we had started the road trip. It was one super elephant corridor I must say, popular for elephant spotting. I did feel guilty for having stopped to take a good look at them an hour from Athirappalli, although the jumbos looked nonchalant and hardly took an interest in the human presence. A lot of passing sedans had parked roadside to take a peek into the tropical forests that flanked the highways, where the pachyderm families were partly hidden by overgrown grass and dense foliage. Plenty of fresh green fodder here for the elephants to feast on. My most cherished memories.

So the lucky job of being a wildlife biologist at Rajaji national park – how much ever offbeat that could have been and even if the research wouldn’t have paid well – still is an enviable position to me. I wish I was there.

This book comes close on heel to (reading) ‘the Elephant whisperer’ authored by Lawrence Anthony, the South African game reserve runner who is no more. He developed that unique bond to communicate with the tuskers that were under his custody and care within the park limits. But I feel more connected to Tipu’s real life story because it is based in India. The empirical evidence recorded by the wildlife biologist firsthand lends credibility, authenticity and scientific validation to any research or observation on elephant lifecycles and habitats (wrt the said period) in my opinion, in fast changing climes and environs.

I will have to agree with Christy that the Asian elephant population is massively hit and dwindling at an alarming rate. Their African cousins at least bask in global attention and could be doing better in spite of relentless poaching threats to wildlife in the Dark continent. The Asian elephants’ case is complicated by the dimension of domestication. In Thailand for instance, a vast majority of the jumbos could be domesticated with a very slim percentage of the elephants left to roam in the wild. The tragic saga of Indian temple elephants has not elicited the kind of attention or response that it merited.

The author is stationed in Dholkhand forest office station and carries on research on the Indian wild elephants in the foot of the Siwaliks in the late 1990s. Here he takes to personally radio collaring the elephants for the first time in Indian history for research purposes. Now that’s a stupendous job, hitherto unheard of, generating valuable data for processing and records that could go a long way in preserving the elephant territories and ancient corridors that are routinely taken over for urbanization by our government. The statistics probably later paved the way for resettling the Gujjar tribe from within the limits of the sanctuary to remote areas leaving the forests clear and free for the elephant population. The gujjars with their animal husbandry were competing with the pachyderms for the forest resources that were getting scarcer by the day.

The author’s familiarity with the elephants he collared with his team including Tipu, Shahrukh, Diana, Kiruba, Aishwarya, Topcut, Madhuri, Mallika, Malavika, Div T etc., is heartwarming. The wildlife expert records at least 23 elephants of one to two families in the Gangetic plains up to the foothills of the Siwalik, home range to certain lineages of India’s wild elephants. The immobilization of the mammoth elephants darting them with tranquilizers is one nerve wracking drama. Reviving the jumbos seems to be even more challenging and critical where and when things can seriously go wrong and defeat the purpose. This is so when an elephant goes down on its chest or stomach. The saving of the wild elephant’s life is an enormous responsibility and the researcher with the veterinarian team and assistants and forest officials seems to have executed his part to satisfaction. It is unnerving to learn that sometimes darting is done by teams on foot with the vet leading from forefront. Kudos to forest officers and wildlife biologists who are into this, foregoing material aspirations. Elephant Maximus is a matchless species and India, as per the author, is home to at least 50% of wild Asian elephant population.

Good one on Makhna, the male tuskless elephants although this piece of info is not news to me.

Kudos to wildlife biologist and senior to Christy, (Dr?) AJT Johnsingh who felt the need to move human-tribal settlements away from elephant corridors. This was apparently later implemented to good degree of success. AJT, the author avers, is India’s first mammal biologist. What a brilliant brainchild of AJT is this delinking of humanity from the wild elephant society! The man-elephant conflict can be resolved in a day if this works to perfection.

I virtually camped in Rajaji for a week turning page after page of the book where I was enchanted by a variety of flora and fauna, native to this particular park. Special mention: Sal tree. Others include Rohini trees, Khair (favourite of the elephants), Acacia, Ehretia, Mallotus, sharing space with the pied hornbill, chital deer, langurs, barking deer, rhesus macaques, gorals, leopard, tigers. The shrubs and bushes are the rau, the lantana and the colebrookia (biological term). How rich is my India!

One interesting fact about the Asian elephants viz-a-viz other domesticated species such as the canines (from wolves) is that, despite captivity of a record 4000 years (longest in human memory), (and unlike the African elephants that have miraculously escaped this cruel fate), the Asian elephants have not mutated into any sub species which is remarkable. The domesticated Asian elephants retain the exact DNA of their wild brethren.

Some cheer learning that in the elephant world, the males follow the lead of the females. Not news to me again, having grown up on a staple of Wilbur Smith. The elephant matriarchs always sounded to me like my own patti (grandma) hahaha. The author at the outset avers how it is entirely wrong lumping all elephants into one grey. Every single elephant is a different character, with a distinct personality. Christy seems to have a special something for Tipu, the sultan of the Siwaliks who is very mature and intelligent.

The musth season of the wild elephants is well detailed and covered in phases. Learning that the tuskers came to musth every year from one to two months or even five to six months in the case of mature bulls, I couldn’t help thinking about our temple elephants chained and tortured for life. No wonder they go on rampage through our towns and villages, confined to squatting space in musth season without company.

The man-elephant conflict is also dealt with neatly on first hand experience. Yet the author does not lose sight of the fact that IT IS THE ELEPHANTS THAT ARE FIGHTING THE LOSING BATTLE. The railway accidents and power lines are taking a heavy toll on the wild Indian population. Christy hopes the situation is improving with afforestation afoot, but I don’t share his optimism at all.

The author does a remarkable job of not merely doing math of the headcount of the wild Indian elephants in Rajaji in late ’90s, but also tracks and tags and studies the elephant families acquiring valuable research material and info. Particularly impressive is learning of the way the mother elephants guard the newborns, how the elephants trumpet, rumble, mock-charge for various emotions or communications and how even the erring among them get chastised by the senior matrons. The bull elephants almost always are on their own, parting from the group when they reach puberty from which time they are in the company of wise old bulls who show them the ways of the elephantine life.

I particularly loved reading about how the group of wild elephants fell asleep on their backs on top of the gorge and then woke up on clockwork precision only to turn on their sides and go back to sleep! So cute and so far unobserved fact I guess that even Lawrence Anthony did not get to discover about African elephants! Oh what a sight that must have been! I do guess this Tipu book is full of vital info specific to the wild Indian elephant. I like the geography with native trees and other wild species that find a mention. It is interesting to note how the ecology is maintained with the arrival of monsoons.

Christy who joins the newly established Wildlife Institute of India as a greenhorn biologist is also working on ‘Project elephant’ mooted by govt of India. He goes on to submit his research paper at Arizona state univ., in the US after which he joins WWF that takes him to Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia etc., to study the wild Asian elephants.

Shattered reading about the train accident that killed three female wild elephants. Moved to tears learning how the elephant mother sacrificed her own life throwing herself at the speeding engine to save her baby – so much humanlike.

Christy meets his future wife Kashmira in Rajaji National Park and shows ‘Tipu’ to her when she says she would like to marry Tipu! Well, Christy I would have loved to, as well! The author getting connected to ‘Tipu’ is too very understandable. As I said, I share his emotion.

The book ended with a first person (imagined) account of Tipu who seems to have lost hope for his progenies on Planet Earth. The future seems bleak from his point of view and I feel a sadness realizing the truth in his fears and doubts. I hope the book is read by leading industrialists and especially the self-certified gurus of India as well as our government and bureaucracy and planners and decision makers. Is India only for human Indian citizens? What about our wildlife. Can you imagine India without the elephant. Next time, do when you screech ‘Ganpati bappa moriya.’ The chants sound shrill to my ears when you dislodge the Elephant maxima from their natural environs, take over the elephant corridors for ashrams and factories, destroy forests and build in their places ugly cities. May be what is stated in the ‘Sapiens’ (Yuval Noah Harari) is perfect. The species that go extinct are the most fortunate as they do not profusely regenerate and populate to live a miserable life. Whoever went before us the homesapiens, went with grace having lived life well when it lasted.

Posted in Environment

Elephant At Crossroads

Humans are too very selfish and self-centered. Preoccupied with their list of priorities. What about the Wildlife. What happens to our wildlife. No place to go home to, caught in the crossfires? The case of the Indian/ Asian elephants traumatized by border skirmishes is of a serious nature.

As the CAA protests die down, I have finally chosen to voice my concern about the wild elephants crossing from India into Bangladesh and vice versa.

I am an avid supporter of CAA myself. Ever since I keep wondering, what happens to our elephants now. Are there earmarked elephant corridors between India and Bangladesh. Indian government hopefully allows in the Bangladeshi elephants. Is our government tagging the Indian elephants with any kind of identification collar. How to differentiate between the Indian elephants and Bangladeshi elephants. Census of Indian elephants could be reflecting an inflated figure in the absence of any distinction between the Indian and the Bangladesh elephants in the border areas.

Wildlife knows no man-made boundaries. The border dispute takes as much toll on wildlife as humans. Perhaps, far worse.

Crossing over to hostile territory may cost one one’s life:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/16/elephant-dies-1000-mile-journey-india-bangladesh

The tragic story of the mighty elephants separated by borders:

Elephants in a reserve forest along India-Bangladesh border struggle for survival

Indian elephants ‘strayed’ into Bangladesh ??? The choice of words is intriguing. So are our elephants numbered or radio-collared. I hope so. India to some extent takes care of the wildlife and keeps a headcount.

https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/nation/2018/12/10/indian-elephant-dies-near-rowmari-border

Elephants caught in human conflicts. Elephants in Burmese-Bangladesh border pay a heavy price thanks to the Rohingya Refugee influx.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/11/rohingya-refugee-crisis-elephants-bangladesh/

The Bangladeshi illegal immigrant elephants in Indian soil keep officials on toes:

https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2018/sep/11/elephants-from-bangladesh-keep-officials-on-toes-in-karimganj-1870363.html

A breather: consolatory safe passage to illegal immigrant elephants :

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/soon-gates-on-border-to-allow-indian-elephants-to-visit-bangladesh-and-return/story-rDybL52QkciEgnbU8jCDVK.html

Indian elephant shot dead in Bangladesh:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/Dalma-elephant-shot-dead-by-Bangla-troops/articleshow/46992927.cms

Man-Elephant conflict rages as Rohingya Muslim Refugees displace native elephants from their natural habitat in Bangladesh:

https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/governance/rohingya-refugees-face-the-rage-of-displaced-elephants-60531

The list goes on and on…

How many of the so-called liberals and leftists gave a thought to our wildlife bearing the brunt of border conflicts. The distressed elephants have nowhere to go, driven out of their homes to accommodate the so-called refugees. Is it morally or ethically permissible to settle the Rohingyas in elephant habitats that have been their natural home since the dawn of the universe. Let CAA include the Bangladeshi elephants with the list of Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh-Pakistan! The Indian tuskers too need a safe passage into Bangladesh and back. The jumbo population is dwindling at a very fast pace. The gentle giants that grace our beautiful country with their sunny presence may soon go extinct right in front of our eyes. Hopefully the governments of India and Bangladesh will resolve the elephant migration issue as well in our border areas. This is one special case of illegal Bangladeshi immigrant Elephants that may be given an exemption to overstay in India or seek asylum in India!

 

Posted in Environment

Best Gift On World Elephant Day: Man vs Wild with PM Modi and Bear Grylls, on Discovery HD

What a man! Interesting to watch one of his many facets that make him what he is today.

Walking the Jim Corbett with Bear Grylls – doing this at his age even if with invisible security cordon, is a feat. Yoga must be his fitness secret.

Luckily no wild elephant or a Bengal tiger crossed their path although PM Modi was quick and sharp enough to spot elephant dung in the thick bush. His observation is very good obviously. Wildlife spotting is not really that easy. In fact I have always spotted wild elephants both in Kerala and in Tamil Nadu only in the shoulder areas adjoining the national parks. Wild animals do not know of or respect man-made boundaries. Animal/bird watchers also must have immense patience for any ‘sighting.’ Rare are lucky spottings.

I caught my breath as our PM boarded the haphazardly hand-built coracle (by Grylls) (what we call parisal in Tamil). I recently took a (plastic) ‘parisal’ ride in Kodaikanal where the lake depth was not much. Still the risk of tipping over is enormous. In his age and position, I got alarmed and wondered aloud, whether the PM must be doing that. Of course, his security must have been hovering in the background. The coracles originally made of bamboo are very popular with rural Indians when it comes to river/lake crossings in lieu of boats. They come in handy especially when the river depth is not adequate for boating and the river width is easily navigable.

Fully drenched in rain, PM Modi was treated with as much affection like a son by Grylls. That was heartwarming. The PM answered back Grylls in Hindi for the benefit of all Indians including those who may not be knowing English.

To one of the questions on keeping India clean, Modi ji replied that Indians have good personal hygiene but lacked social hygiene. He couldn’t have put it more aptly. That is a 100% true fact. I realized this during our days in Malaysia. We Indians or those of Indian origin showered maximum. The Chinese went to work straight from bed and showered late in the evening. Showering too many times they believed, could get you cold and make you sick! Yet the Indians stank and the Chinese looked better. Probably this body odour is in our subcontinent gene! We Indians sweat more compared to many other races. Many friends and relatives have remarked on this aspect as to how we Indians maintain better personal hygiene. Yet our breath smells!! When it comes to social hygiene, we draw a big blank almost. Just look at the airport restrooms! You just cannot teach the concept of dry toilets to our masses! Water, water everywhere! Never mind, now many in the west are of opinion that wet toilets (meaning those fitted with hand faucets) are more hygienic, less infectious and environment friendly than those with toilet paper roll! In Yoga centers in India, you can see only Indian squatting toilets used by even foreigners comfortably. Its good for your knees and it is regaining its status. May be one day as they say coconut oil and groundnut oil are actually good (after denouncing them for years that is), the west will come around to this point. Even the way we measure hygiene is different in both worlds. That said, India leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to keeping the nation neat and clean. It is a social consciousness, not a government job. Still, ever since Swachch Bharat was introduced by Modi, I notice a welcome change. Even if it is not a lot, it is good and holds promise for a better future.

The conversation was kept minimal and interesting, going with the flow of the nature trail as Grylls and Modi walked through the tall bushes towards the river.

Normally I hope and look forward to wildlife spotting but today I was anxious!  For once, I wished the tigers and the elephants stayed away! Remember it was none less than the Jim Corbett! The weather seemed awesome and amiable. Untiring, more than anything else. I am sure the rendezvous and the trail itself were handpicked and combed and checked out in advance. That may account for no chance encounter with the mighty Indian elephant or the Bengal tiger by the adventurous duo. Or even the venomous snakes.

The dollops of flashback from PM’s life right from his childhood told in his own words lent the show some extra spice. What a humble background and what an austere brought-up PM Modi has had. What a contrast this is from the spoilt Nehru-Gandhi lineage. His ascension to power is not surprising. The spark is still visible!

Critics of course will say, this is all stunt. So be it. Neither I care nor does Modi Ji hahaha!  He is daring as only he can be. And he is curious. Very inquisitive. Open to learning. Not afraid to ask questions. Or try the turf. Not embarrassed an ounce! Comfortable in strange surroundings. It is easy to see why he is what he is and where he is today.  India is truly a very beautiful and diverse and rich country! I am proud of my nation in every way and all ways possible! Grylls seems to share an affectionate bonding with India as well…

However I would request our PM to stay safe in future and let this be his first and last adventure in unchartered territory. As Bear Grylls himself says, PM Shri Narendra Modi is the No.1 and most important man in the country. Precious, priceless gem. We want him to live a 100 years and if possible 200. Please take better care of your health Prime Minister, India loves you. Love and adore your spirit and your sacrificing self. Sometimes I even wonder whether we Indians deserve such a committed man.

My personal request to you Mod ji, is to ban elephants from our temples and palaces and processions and tourism industry and conserve them in our forests. This way, you will be ensuring that Ganpati lives on for 100-200 more bargained years before going extinct (which will happen eventually in under 300 years. Of course, this will earn you the wrath of Kerala Devaswoms, Mysore and Rajasthan palaces and tourism industry. But Lord Ganesha will bless you and the nation. If anyone can do it, it is you Prime Minister. Believe me this has nothing to do with the Church. And even if this is a conspiracy theory by the missionaries, you will still be extending a fresh lease of life for the Indian Elephant. If you don’t, our grand children from 2100 will not be seeing a single Indian elephant in flesh and blood.