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A rendezvous in the forest

- by Ramith M, Field Officer
Nilgiri- Eastern Ghats Conservation Project

Wayanad, April 27, 2013: Nothing inspires me more than nature and its ways.

Being a field officer with the Wildlife Trust of India, working for the securement of Wayanad (elephant) Corridor , I regularly walk down the corridor trying to track elephant herds using it. Supported by agencies like the Elephant Family, IUCN and the World Land Trust, we had managed to secure this corridor for elephants, and now we are assessing their use.

These walks often spring me surprises, but one particular day surpassed all my expectations. It was a union unlike any other I had seen.

On April 4, around 5 in the evening, accompanied by my field assistant, Balakrishnan, we located a herd of six elephants- all females- with a calf. They were roaming in a swamp (locally known as vayals) among the moist deciduous forest of the corridor, eating grass and climbers on the dry bamboo shoots. We were hiding behind tall mango trees, atypical of the area, watching them on the other side of the river Kalindi (which runs from the Brahmagiri hills to join the river Kabini). The herd had most likely come here, in search of food and water, from the drier forests of Nagarhole National Park, in the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats.


Herd

A herd of elephants in a swamp, locally called 'vayal'

We followed the herd from a distance observing their activities. Time flew by as we watched them roam around, completely engrossed in eating while the calf happily fed off its mother. It had been over an hour and we had been eagerly waiting for them to dunk in the water and honour us with the sight of them drinking or bathing in the river. But suddenly, to our great surprise, the herd trumpeted and started running away.

Perplexed, me and Balakrishnan, frantically looked around for the reason for the herd’s sudden flight. We were on ground and only too vulnerable to whatever had caused them to run. A little while later, we saw it - a gang of all-male elephants entering from the other side of the swamp.

While our focus shifted to the two tuskers and two, slightly shorter, makhnas (males without tusks), the females had covered quite a distance. The male group however, seemed determined about something. They made their way towards the females, with the leader of the male herd approaching them first and the remaining tusker and makhnas hanging back in the middle of the swamp.

We presumed that the herd of females would run further away, or we would witness a showdown. A lot of thoughts ran through our minds then, but we certainly did not expect them all to happily trot back with the tusker!

What communication transpired between them, we’ll never know, but we were flabbergasted by this astounding display. The male was quite smooth in his wooing, it appeared.


Communicating

Nobody expected the herd of females to trot back with tusker

We just sat there and watched all the individuals gather together in the middle of the swamp, rubbing themselves against each other, perhaps communicating some more. The tusker leader then started walking behind one of females in the herd constantly sniffing her with his trunk. It was clearly mating season, and our thoughts now shifted to possibly witnessing these amazing animals mating! However, their privacy was not to be intruded.

After some time, the females followed as the tuskers led the way towards the river heading straight in our direction. We took that as our signal to leave since it was already getting dark.

What happened after that we can only guess, and as intrigued as we were, we did not wish to have any close encounters of the elephant kind, not at night!

Trudging back home thinking about what we just saw I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude towards the local people who were settled here earlier. They had voluntarily relocated outside of the corridor, to give these elephants and other animals the right of passage.

Assisting the Forest Department, we ensured with the help of our donors – Elephant Family, IUCN and World Land Trust, and many other agencies, that these local people were resettled in an area of their choice with amenities and facilities that would improve their living standards. It was a long-drawn process that took us seven years! But thinking back, who wouldn’t say it was worth it. 

The site where this rendezvous occurred is only 200m from the area secured by WTI. Click here to read more about the efforts of making the corridor a safer place for elephants.

Photos: Ramith M/WTI

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