I woke up before my alarm clock the next mornings. I quickly got dressed in my green clothing (colourful clothing isn't permitted as it alarms the animals), gulped down a masala chai and hopped on the jeep I was assigned to. The jeep safari route is divided into 2 areas, a fully wooded area in the forest and an area that goes by the backwaters. We were headed for the wooded area in the forest. Before I knew it, we were off the main village street and venturing deep into the forest along a winding path through the mist. I really should have dressed warmer, because the cool morning air was biting as we bumped along the path and all I had on was a flimsy army jacket.
Our first sighting was a leopard, about 100 metres away. We stopped the jeep and watched as it drank from a watering hole and then lay down on a patch of grass in the mist. After a few minutes, it got up and walked right over to us before continuing on its way. Sadly, leopard sightings will become increasingly rare in years to come, primarily because of habitat loss. In fact, leopards are no longer present in 50 percent of their historic range in Asia. National parks like Nagarhole National Park are protected areas for these wildlife to roam freely, without significant threats from humans. The forest departments strictly enforces that the jeeps stay on designated paths and that nobody can exit the vehicle while in the forest. As we continued along, we spotted a few herds of spotted deer, some Macaque monkeys and a giant squirrel.
Then, out of the bushes, came an Asian elephant mother and calf. Slightly smaller than their African cousins, Asian elephants are native to India and Southeast Asia. The forests of the Eastern Ghats in India support at least 6,500 elephants, which is 17 percent of the global population of Asian elephants. The landscape is also home to diverse range of flora and fauna, many of them being endemic to this region. Asian elephants travel in matriarchal herds, so there were probably more elephants nearby, but we couldn't wait to find out because our guide heard a deer's warning call, which meant a tiger was nearby. Yikes, we could have been lunch!
After the excitement of the tiger passed, we continued on and spotted a solo bull elephant, which our guide referred to as a 'tusker'. Not all elephants develop visible tusks; in Asian elephants, only some males have large, prominent tusks. Elephants use their tusks to pull the bark from trees and dig roots out of the ground to eat. Unfortunately their tusks have gotten them into a lot of trouble. Because ivory is so valuable to some humans, many Asian elephants have been killed for their tusks. Although the ivory trade is illegal today, it continues to be an ongoing issue both in India and across Asia and Africa. Forest departments and NGOs in India are working to closely monitor forest areas to prevent illegal entry by poachers, but there is still a long way to go protect their beautiful ivory!
We headed back to camp feeling hungry and happy. We had seen so many elephants in their natural habitat: elephants, a tiger, spotted dear, monkeys, and a leopard in one morning, and there was still still time to do a couple more jungle safaris before moving on to our next destination, the Kerala Corridor.
Stay tuned for Part 4, coming soon!
Photos: Adam Custins (www.custins.com)
In the past century, 90% of Asian elephants have disappeared off the face of the earth, with only 30,000 left in existence. To help ensure the survival of the remaining 10% of the population, we have partnered with an NGO called Elephant Family who works to secure vital elephant corridors across Asia. Corridors allow elephants to feed and move freely in the wild without being threatened by humans. 90/10 is our commitment to donate 10% of our profits to help save the Asian elephant, one corridor at a time.