blessing the land

I’ve seen footprints and elephant boluses and heard stories about the herds of wild elephants that frequent the area, but last night at 10:35pm I heard proof — my first wild elephant trumpet. It sounded like s/he was just outside my front door. The familiar sound brought an instant smile to my face. I stood motionless on my porch listening for more, any other sign of elephants. But there was only pitch dark and silence. I figured the music maker had moved on. But honestly, just hearing that one joyful trumpet was enough for me, for now.

I’ve been thinking deeply about our project, wondering what impact, if any, it will have on the wild ones. Of course my desire is to do no harm, so educating myself regarding wild elephant activity in the region is imperative.

This morning as I recounted the elephant music of the night before, the resident security man came roaring up on his scooter to announce that he had seen a herd of elephants. The night before they entered the property through a wide opening in the forest wall and proceeded to feast on bamboo, a fruitless mango tree and the huge Banyan tree that dwarfs the outdoor classroom area used occasionally for schoolchildren from Bangalore.

Several piles of manure suggested the size of the herd and age of some of its members. From the fertilizer they left behind it appeared that this herd included at least two youngsters, one only a few months old.

this sandle is a size 7, so you can see how small this calf’s foot is.

Out of curiosity we tracked the elephants’ movements, following piles of manure, footprints and discarded vegetation. A horizontal chain that extended across a dirt road lay in two pieces on the ground. The heavy lock that previously held it together was splayed open and discarded. Most likely one of the larger elephants stood on the chain until the lock gave way.

The amount of damage done was nil unless you consider leaf litter and a couple of broken branches a problem. After filling their bellies, the herd appeared to leave the way they entered.

I am getting such an education — wild elephant lifestyles in the Bannerghatta forest 101. Living on the land shared by wild elephants is a gift and a responsibility. I look forward to the days and weeks ahead. I am realizing that this project has the potential to be much more than anticipated. One world, one elephant at a time has taken on a much more complicated meaning.

One world, one elephant at a time — both wild and captive.

new neighbors

Well, I guess I’ve done it now. I will probably be arrested for dog nabbing.

Soon after arriving here, after Derrick abandoned me to return to his first home, a hungry suckling dog came scavenging around my place. I felt bad because there wasn’t anything for her to eat so I gave her a dish of soymilk. She was tentative and very apprehensive about allowing me even to walk past her. With her tail between her legs she’d scurry off to a safe distance from me. She would not take her eyes off me until I left the area.

Over the past two weeks her visits have become regular and more frequent. Lately she quietly stands on the threshold of my open door, calmly looking at me. I try to remember to cook more than I need so there will be leftovers for her.

She has also taken to spending more time just hanging out, most likely to spend time away from her growing pups. I knew she had one pup because I saw it as I walked through her village during one of my scouting expeditions. But yesterday I had a surprise.

When Momma dog came for her AM soymilk there were two, blue-eyed pups tagging along behind her. They looked to be no more than six weeks old; cute does not come close to describing them. They steered clear of me and one even let out what was supposed to be a ferocious bark to make sure I did not approach. Too cute.

Today when Momma dog stood in my doorway, patiently waiting to see if there were any leftovers, two cute faces peeked out from behind her. Their visit was not the surprise of the day; it was when I saw the pups playing on my porch—with no mom in sight—that I realized what she had done. Seriously, the pups were playing, let out one halfhearted whine when they realized Mom was gone, then plopped down by the porch step and fell fast asleep.

I looked for Mom but she was gone. We will see if she intends for this to be a permanent residence change or just an opportunity for her pups to get to know the neighbors. Either way, I hope their owners don’t think I puppy nabbed them.

thinking about the big picture

Things are progressing well with the care center — lots of discussion, meetings and scouting the land. But this time around the process is quite different from when my Tennessee sanctuary dream was becoming a reality. This time things are moving slower, every step evaluated and reevaluated by the team of people involved.

Vishnu is well respected for his conservation efforts by area property owners. At a meeting yesterday I learned that his land is unique to the area as he is honoring and restoring the forest with no motivation of capital gain. Apparently, over the years, many have tried to persuade Vishnu to turn the place into a high-end resort, but he has resisted all offers.

I love the fact that the land has been honored, forest replanted, wildlife respected and only limited numbers of humans allowed to bird watch and escape from the city.

Vishnu would be the first to admit he never imagined his restoration would benefit captive elephants. But there is a low-level, nearly undetectable hum here, like something is ready to unfold, blossom or be born. The land is ready to serve elephants again.

I am intrigued by what I am learning about the ways of wild elephants in a semi-urban environment. The fact that they can avoid trouble is nearly inconceivable with the degree of human encroachment surrounding their habitat. Putting myself in their skin is frightening. Every step they take brings them too close to human settlements. Everywhere they turn there is a road, a village, a rock quarry. They have no space and no safe haven; they must spend a great deal of time stressed by this mounting pressure, no doubt resulting in the same types of illness anyone experiences when exposed to constant low-level stress.

Being an optimistic person by nature I will not say the situation for wild elephants is hopeless, but being realistic, I admit it would appear that their chances of survival are slim. A major shift in the universal consciousness regarding our planet, resources and all life would need to occur, and quite soon, for mega vertebrates such as elephants, to survive in a free state on our planet.

Not a day goes by without horror stories regarding elephants, both captive and wild, making headlines worldwide. In India alone, several stories appear daily, chronicling human/elephant conflict, elephants mowed down by trains, buses and trucks driving through national forests, elephants electrocuted on tea garden estates by live electrical wires left dangling intentionally to curb trespassers. Ganesha is alive in the hearts of the people in Asia but the connection to his live counterpart seems to have been severed.

To date I have not seen a wild elephant in the forest bordering the care center, and honestly I believe I prefer not to. I can only imagine the toll the challenge of survival has taken on them. Where I would hope to see a calm and majestic inhabitant of the natural world, I am afraid I would see someone much different, a pale image of who s/he was before the human madness overtook their well-balanced world.

The care center will be a beacon, a haven for a few needy elephants and an example for other conservationists to emulate. But time is not on the side of the elephants, captive or wild. I can’t say for certain that our small project will change reality for elephants…but like I said, I am an optimist and stranger things have happened.

The Blue Eared King Fisher

One of the first birds I photographed on Elephant Lake was this stunning Blue Eared Kingfisher (BEK). The little guy may be small in stature but he has a huge attitude.

When I set up my lakefront office I was unaware of its real estate value to the local winged fishermen. For two days after my arrival, BEK fished from a nearby tree but, on the third day, a flash of blue caught my eye as he landed on a soiled rock jetting out of the dam wall only a few feet below me. The bird droppings on the rock and his territorial behavior made me realize that my outdoor office was his preferred fishing location.

The first evening he was brave enough to claim his fishing perch, he kept cocking his head in my direction and bobbing his body up and down wildly — all 5 inches of him — in a way that could only be interpreted as “go away.”

I understood what he wanted but hoped that diverting my eyes would suffice. I remained perfectly still and completely quiet and he soon turned his attention to dinner. Within minutes he caught his first fish, a glistening slender silver catch easily twice the length of his beak. Returning to his rock jetty perch he swallowed the fish in one gulp, but only after bashing its head on the rock. The head bashing was kind of shocking, but it was quick and precise. I don’t know why I assumed that all fishing birds eat their catch live.

I have been working from my lake front office for nearly two weeks now and BEK and I have settled into a very comfortable pattern. I arrive early to avoid disturbing his routine, respectful of the window of time when bugs land on the water, fish swim to the surface to feed on the bugs and the blue eared wonder dives down and snatches a meal. I admit to being intrigued by the feeding process but divert my eyes during the head bashing.

While I download emails and catch up on communications, my blue eared neighbor goes about his business, hardly paying attention to me. But I can’t help staring at him when he is not looking, he is so irresistibly stunning.