Scouting Around

While scouting the land today I found elephant boluses (dung) scattered along a granite hilltop on the care center property. The granite is spectacular, with sheered layers and huge natural depressions. During monsoon season rainwater fills the many depressions, creating a series of watering holes, some deep enough for an elephant to wallow in. Judging from the age of the dung, monsoon season is probably when the elephant was here.

While exploring another area of the elephant-lake shoreline I found footprints from a single elephant… Where he exited the water is quite muddy so his footprints were well preserved. They weren’t recent but they were BIG.

I have been thinking a lot about the wild elephants that use this land. Their corridors must be reestablished and protected or wild elephants will not survive. I would trash my plans for a captive elephant care center if giving this land to the wild elephants would make a difference, but the reality is that 200 acres will not fix the problem.

Guarding the national forest from further human invasion is an important step toward fixing the problem. One of the reasons Vishnu bought this land was to act as a steward for wild elephant land . He wanted to stop human encroachment, at least in this area. If more landowners took this perspective, things could turn around for elephants. They need land, connecting corridors and stewards willing to protect the land.

The care center borders the national forest. Years back, in an effort to keep wild elephants from leaving the forest to raid crops, the Forest Department erected miles of stone walls. Unfortunately, with villagers growing crops just feet from the walls, the temptation is too great. Elephants—usually a lone bull— pushes over a section of the wall. It is an easy task for a full-grown male, who lowers his massive head and pushes until a section of the wall topples, creating an opening. After seeing a couple of these breaches in the walls, I am growing ever more thankful for my Indian collaborators.

Vishnu has lived on this land for years, accumulating quite a bit of knowledge about wild elephants. He is required to know the species because his company is one that installs electric fences designed to keep wild elephants and villagers separate. I recently learned that he installed the fencing at Corbett National Park. Last year, while visiting with Christy Williams, I had the opportunity to observe the effectiveness of Vishnu’s fencing enclosing the compound where I was staying, smack in the middle of the forest. Late one night I noticed a juvenile bull standing close to the fence. He stood there for quite some time, several minutes for sure. He appeared to be contemplating something, perhaps the likelihood of being able to get through the fence. Or maybe he was just as curious about us as we were of him. Either way, the fence held him out.

After a few more days of scouting, I believe we’ll be able to decide on the location of the perimeter fencing. This is a very exciting time. I do miss the presence of elephants but I realize they would be a huge distraction. I need to stay focused on the project. The elephants will be here soon enough!

tribesmen and internet signals

I woke at six–just as the morning light was creeping over the granite hilltop—feeling refreshed and happy as a clam! I went to sleep under a bed of stars and woke to birds singing and a fabulous sunrise — simply heaven. I feel like myself again — I just needed to get out of the city!

Derrick greeted me with a downward down stretch followed by his mellow tail wag. We hiked up the hill to see if I could get cell reception, but no luck. Actually, what I really wanted to do was some exploring. Derrick had the same idea and led the way. The granite rock formations on these hilltops are inspiring.

Back at the house, Derrick went into a barking frenzy. I heard rustling in the nearby underbrush and expected to see a deer or two. Instead, I caught a glimpse of three wild pigs– two adults and a piglet — scampering in the opposite direction. I was excited — my first wildlife sighting!

Mahadeva, a local tribesman, is helping me get comfortable with the area. We spent all morning hiking the property. It really is spectacular. One feature that the elephants will appreciate is the diversity of the land, from pastures to rocky hillsides, forest and, of course, a beautiful lake. I saw that one of the creeks feeds fresh water into the lake. Partially spring fed — just another plus.

This land is elephant country. At one time all the land around here belonged to wild elephants. I have been thinking hard about this reality.

Late this afternoon I decide to set out on another hike, this time to see if I could find a cell phone signal. I was gifted a pin drive which, if in range, will give me wireless internet service for my computer. I was determined to locate a signal.

Vishnu says he gets reception in front of his house but I did not, so I hiked further. I finally did get a signal and wouldn’t you guess it was smack dab in the middle of elephant country on the shore of the lake. I had to laugh out loud. What a fabulous place to set up my mobile office. I plopped myself down on a granite bench and was able to send and receive emails while watching a variety of birds fishing on the lake.

This care center is going to be more than I even envisioned. It is heaven and the elephants will love it. I am so happy to be back, to make dream real.

Getting Settled In

This afternoon I said good-bye to Bangalore, piled my bags into Vishnu’s vehicle and headed out on yet another classic Indian adventure. Vishnu is a collaborating partner of the Care Center project and long term conservationist, friend and supporter.

Not wanting to appear to be a sissy by hiding in the back seat, I strapped myself securely in the front passenger seat. I had to remind myself to breathe. You have not experienced “rush hour traffic” until you have been in downtown Bangalore at five in the evening.

The streets were full of focused drivers making a mad dash for every open inch of road space, and I mean inch. I would never be the passenger on one of those motorcycles. The women sit seemingly so relaxed, dressed fastidiously in their flowing garments, many sitting side-saddle, hardly holding on to the driver in front of them. For sure I would have the driver in a death grip and would screech each time another vehicle blew past us.

Dodging pedestrians, motorcycles, bicyclists and mobile venders — just to name a few of the moving obstacles — while jockeying for the front bumper position with every manner of bus, car, truck, motorcycle and moped, is a well-earned skill. When I wasn’t covering my eyes to avoid the six dimensional road mayhem playing out in front of me, I was remotely able to appreciate the organized chaos.

Daylight hours on the highway are treacherous enough, but when the sun sets and drivers flip on their head lamps, the result is instant blindness. Seriously, I cannot figure out how drivers stay on the road and avoid hitting not only oncoming traffic but any of the other obstacles that appear to pop out of the darkness directly in front of you. I guess people who pay to be terrified by an amusement park ride would consider this serious fun!

It was pitch dark by the time we turned off the main road. I never thought I would be so happy to see a poorly maintained pitted dirt road. I could finally relax. After a few minutes we drove under a raised guard rail and entered the National Forest. I immediately felt things shift. Vishnu slowed the vehicle to a comfortable speed and appeared to be breathing in the surroundings. There is a wonderful feel to this place — quiet and peacefully alive.

Even though our trip was less than 50 kilometers, it took more than three hours to arrive “home.” Oh, yes, of course, there were numerous stops along the way. A few kilos of rice, a cylinder of propane, and some fresh produce added a colorful flavor to the experience.

As we pulled up to my new home-away-from-home, the headlights spilled over Derrick, poised welcomeingly on the porch. His tail wagged gently, in a soft, unhurried manner. Derrick is an ex- street dog who won the heart of Vishnu and his wife. Like most street dogs, Derrick is wise, has excellent street smarts and is a soft bundle of golden sweetness.

I silently hoped that Derrick would abandon his master for at least one night and stay at my place. I guess he read my mind because when Vishnu turned to leave, Derrick calmly headed towards my open door. I wondered if by chance Derrick was allowed in the house, but actually, I know better. Vishnu gently told him to stay outside. I’m not sure which one of us was more disappointed, Derrick or I. We shared my dinner under a star-bright sky and I fell asleep with a smile thinking of this new pup in my life.

Dogs are the same the world over. It makes no difference if they are a shabby looking street dog, a pampered pedigreed show dog or the rescued mutt that brings us such joy. They are amazing creatures who provide protection and unconditional love. They have so much to teach us.

Deepani Jayantha completed her course

Last month many of you chipped in to help cover a portion of travel expenses for Deepani Jayantha, Born Free’s country representative in Sri Lanka, to attend the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute course, “Conservation Conflict Resolution,” outside Washington, DC. Your support was beyond generous. The course concluded on Friday and I received this email from Deepani:

Greetings from Front Royal, Virginia! The course ended today. It was great!

It is such a great opportunity to come to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute to attend the course, ‘Conservation Conflict Resolution’, which was conducted in collaboration with George Mason University. The intense 5-day course includes conflict analysis, theories of conciliation and mediation, identifying the third party neutral role and multi-stakeholder dialogue in conflict resolution. Role playing based on real life one-on-one conflict situations helps the participants to improve their skills of handling challenging issues. All 14 participants were from the American continents except for me, which made me feel special!

The most significant exercise of the course was discovering Bodhi-Lama in each participant and bringing him to life when interacting with other people every day. The Bodhi-Lama is a hypothetical character with all possible qualities of a genuine third party neutral.

With the course over, I plan to explore life in Virginia despite the difficult weather. The Appalachian Trail is inviting; sadly it is winter. It will be exciting for me to learn about the cultural history of Virginia at the museums in DC.

I am very grateful to all of Elephant Aid International supporters for your financial support. All the friends I made have been enormously helpful – thanks to all! What I learned in this course will invariably be helpful in handling multi-stakeholder dialogue in conservation of elephants in Sri Lanka.

Thanks again for your support,

the start of a new year

My departure to India is fast approaching–really fast–I leave Jan 18th. I am grateful for your well wishes and support.

It’s time to pack my bags, put the phone on “vacation”, make arrangements to store my vehicle and deliver Java to her Auntie Kate. The two are best friends which makes leaving Java behind more bearable.

Although my plane ticket is round trip, I do not know when I will return. That will depend on how quickly the Care Center Project progresses. Top on the list of priorities are two chain-free elephant corrals, the perimeter fencing and a fresh water well.

Without unforeseen delays we should be operational in a few months!