At one point during the morning safari in last year’s trip to Bandipur, we came across a solitary elephant. She was standing there by herself, munching away in the middle of a bush. It isn’t common to find solitary cows, that’s something you notice with bulls. I also noticed that her belly was bigger than normal. “Is she pregnant?” I asked the spotter/driver. “Looks like” he said. Not sure if he really meant it or just played along with me. But the JLR drivers are a knowledgeable lot. Not necessarily bookish knowledge, but the knowledge from longer and deeper association with the jungle, the way you have a sense of buses from using public transport a lot. We turned a corner soon and the rest of the herd was there – two other cows grazing by a waterhole.
This year, as we set out to Bandipur, I remembered the elephant and thought there might be a chance of seeing a calf. Elephants have a long gestation period – 18-22 months, but am no elephant expert. Even if the elephant was indeed pregnant, I had no clue how long she was into her pregnancy when we saw her last year. But yes, the possibility of a calf was there, and I liked it. It’s a lot different from running into a random herd and noticingng a calf. It makes the whole jungle personal, for you to know an elephant and go back to see her, to see what’s up with her. At this point, after doing the 5th annual trip to Bandipur, we almost have an idea of the places – the place we saw the tiger, the crossroads where we saw the leopard, the nearby bushes where we saw the tusker etc.
This was the first time we were doing 2 nights at that place. The evening safari on the day we reached had started in rain. The jeep had an open top and the driver had to close it. This meant that those sitting behind couldn’t see in front of the jeep. We saw the sides as they passed us by. But we noticed a herd as soon as we got off the highway into the forest. There were the three of them grazing away.
For some reason, I knew there was a calf, there was a movement at that level or maybe I just saw it. Or more likely I was just looking for it. The sight of three elephants meant that I was probably running into the same herd. The calf was there, tiny and shy. The presence of something alien in the surroundings disturbed her. “How old is it?” I asked. The driver didn’t have much of a clue. “A week maybe” he said. I felt it was lesser, maybe a few days.
We waited close by for a while, but didn’t linger too long. It felt like trespassing, like impinging, even though the elephants did not charge or trumpet at us. They just stood there grazing. It was mainly the disturbance in the little one’s eyes, I guess.
I wanted to see more of them. With three more safaris to go, I knew there was a high probability of running into them again. The next morning we drove around without any whiff of them. There were the gaur herds, the same ones from the previous evening, even a solitary wild dog and its mate, both sadly separated (and hopefully reunited now). I even managed to capture a bay-backed shrike on camera as it sat there unruffled as the jeep stood beside her perch. And three spotted owlets resting on a tree.
That evening, we were doing the rounds with not much luck with anything other than a Woodpecker. A passing safari vehicle had only one thing to offer “Aaney … road hathra“. Had no clue which road though, so I didn’t say much. We drove along further with no luck, and soon we saw the tarred and shiny highway crossing by. As we got there we noticed them, on our right, the three of them – one of them grazing closer to us and the other two some 40 ft away. We stopped near the one closer to us. She did not like it much and gave out an angry trumpet. We moved a bit further back thinking she wanted to cross the road. But she stayed put.
The mother and her calf however started to advance towards the road. The driver of our jeep put his hand out and asked all vehicles to stop. No vehicles were allowed to pass us. The calf was first tucked into the mother, walking between her legs. She made her way across, walking at a normal gait, neither hurrying nor slowing.
They got to the other side and separated, the calf no longer between the mother’s legs.
We went closer. A few minutes later the second elephant also crossed the road and joined them. Soon, the third too. They walked around this side, grazing at different places. Every once in a while, the calf would fall behind, and get nudged along by an aunt.
It was interesting how the Mother let go of the calf in the presence of the rest of the herd and kept it close by when on the side alone by herself. The other elephants never overtook the calf either, ensuring that at all points of time the calf had elephants on each side – front and back when walking, and on both flanks when grazing. “How old is she?” I asked this driver, a different guy from the previous one. “3-4 days old” he said, the way one says the time when he’s just looked at his watch a few minutes back, not trying to guess to give an answer.
We thought they might cross the road back, but they didn’t, continuing to graze on the same side. Traffic was brought to a standstill as people pulled out their phones and cameras, and clicked away at the herd. We moved on leaving the herd grazing there. We didn’t see much that evening, except the same gaur herd at the same spot.
Next day morning, I asked the driver, the same guy from the previous evening – “Did they cross the road? Did they go back into the forest?”. “Yes, back in the forest safely.”
I wonder if this is the herd that we kept running into at different points in safaris in 2012 and 2013. The herd size was bigger. Maybe it is possible that those bulls in the herd moved along after growing up or one of the cows went along to form another herd on her own. I only hope it was because of a positive reason. Unlike other animals, elephants invest a lot in a calf and a loss of a calf isn’t easy.
The forest itself is being overrun with Lantana bushes. They look pretty with their flowers, but being an invasive species they can wreak havoc on the ecosystem if left unchecked. The forest department seems to be on it from what I heard. One hopes that they are successful in containing it. They have had some success in Uttarakhand though, so there is hope.
Rest of the photos here:
Also made two other short videos
- Black ants walking along in a line.
- A great eggly female flying by. Love how she does it, doing only the minimal flapping needed to be airborne, not the massive flaps of the Mormon