Elephant Stories (Maasai Mara Stories – 4)

We really wanted to see a lot of elephants in Maasai Mara. They were one of my main draws. Bigger, heavier than Asian elephants, Savanna elephants are the largest and heaviest land animals on the planet! We expected to see a fair lot of them grazing, but came across them only thrice! We hoped to see more in Nakuru, but our guide categorically dismissed all such hopes – “No elephants in Nakuru.”

We went through two hours on the first evening without any sign of elephants. The next morning as we were starting on our all-day drive towards the Mara river, we saw a bunch of vehicles stopped on the road and folks in them looking into the distance. Turned out that there was a herd in the bush. It was a largish herd, with a massive matriarch.
Elephant herd
Elephant herd, calf shows up
Continue reading “Elephant Stories (Maasai Mara Stories – 4)”


Sloth Bears and a Tusker (Bandipur Stories – 2)

We saw a couple of sloth bears from far away in fading light the first evening. The second morning, we heard that that pair had been spotted again around the same spot again. So, when we headed out on the second evening, we were hopeful of seeing sloth bears. This would be the first time we’d be seeing any bears in the wild. They tend to be nocturnal venturing out only at the fag end of the day around the time the jeeps are returning from their beats.

Again, like the previous day, we went around the jeep tracks not encountering anything. The tank where they had been spotted the previous day was visited and they were not to be found anywhere. Around this time, another vehicle passed by and said that the bears were right on the highway and were bringing traffic to a halt!

So off we went to the highway, encountering more vehicles who said confirmed the same news. Initially, there were just the bears. Then there was a Tusker that was also hanging around the highway. By the time we were close to the highway, it was back to just the bears. The Tusker seemed to have gone into the forest.

We found the bears alright. There were two of them, and were grazing peacefully. They were digging the sand, and sucking out termites from there.
Sloth bears emerging

Sloth bear Continue reading “Sloth Bears and a Tusker (Bandipur Stories – 2)”

K Gudi – In the wilderness

We had been slightly disappointed with the last Kabini trip. Only slightly, mind you. One naturalist was only concerned with tigers and leopards. There wasn’t any interest shown on birds or even elephants. It didn’t help that they seemed to be catering to a largely bazooka wielding crowd. At that time, there was some thought of trying out K-Gudi. This is another one managed by Jungle Lodges, and is in the Eastern Ghats, in the Biligiri Ranga Temple Tiger Reserve. Tiger spotting is pretty minimal, but it was supposed to have a lot more birdlife. The topography was also said to be more up and down – hilly – encouraging better viewing.

The first thing we noticed was that we had to drive into the forest to the camp. Unlike Kabini or Bandipur, it is not surrounded by hordes of private resorts or lodgings. There is just this one camp, which is also temporary. Apparently, they’ve been given some land outside the reserve, closer to Sathyamangalam, and will have to move out by 2018. After that the journey will be by jeeps that drive in from outside the forest, like they do with all the other forests.

The safari as such is in only one zone. Only one zone is opened up for tourism purposes, so all four safaris were about beating around the same bush in a way. Since we were inside the forest, their staff asked us to go driving on the road and do some spotting ourselves. A pack of dholes(asiatic wild dogs) had gone that side, so you might see them by the waterholes they said. There are waterholes on the road sides, but we could not see any dholes. But we did spot a pair of Oriental honey-buzzards and came close to one massive cobra which we couldn’t stop in time for.

The topography is a lot greener. While Bandipur and Nagarhole’s dry deciduous forests throw up a lot of dead dry trees, BRT was a lot greener. It had a more “forest” feel to it. The rains added to the charm and it looked like we were driving through the Western Ghats in the Monsoons.


After we drove off from Kollegal towards the reserve, outside one of the villages was this huge congregation of kites. And a massive stench too! Apparently, this is where some kind of ropes are made from leftovers from sericulture. And the birds like to feed on them. We thought there might be a few eagles here, but there weren’t. They are all black kites or brahminy kites. The fancier ones are black kite juveniles.

Bunch of kites and a few eagles feeding on sericulture leftovers Continue reading “K Gudi – In the wilderness”

Elephant herds (Kabini Stories – 1)

It’s not often that you come back from a safari brimming with stories. There are elephants to report, or big cats, seldom both, and this time with birds added in. I don’t want to cause wildlife fatigue on my blog with just one post to cover them all, so will split them into multiple ones, 3, or maybe 4, in fact. Although, this might actually cause the fatigue am trying to avoid.

Feb-March is the time when elephants congregate at the Kabini backwaters from all around Southern Karnataka. They come from Bandipur, they come from nearby Nagarhole, they travel from Kodagu and Chikmagaluru, many from Hassan. The reason is the same why elephant congregations happen around the world – water. The Kabini backwaters become the main source for the next 3 months until the Monsoons arrive.

One could expect clashes and fights,  but this is mostly a getting together of old friends and relatives. A herd of elephants in the wild is typically just 3 adult cows with calves being reared. But here they form bigger herds, not one super herd, that stays together. So you see around 6-8 elephants together as one herd unlike the usual 3. I don’t know what’s the largest size recorded is.

The day we reached there though, most elephants had disappeared. Even the backwaters saw one lone majestic Makhna grazing by the river. A ‘Makhna’ is a bull that does not have tusks. Why they don’t have is not known, but given the way poaching works, elephants might evolve to having no tusks to survive. It’s not for no reason that no elephant poaching happens in Sri Lanka. They don’t have any tuskers at all, all bulls are Makhnas. It has also been seen that tusks don’t provide any advantage in fighting off rivals. The one in musth typically wins.
Anyhow, this bull stayed around us, letting us click some photos and also observe him for a while. His ears seem to have been torn, maybe some fight with another elephant. The way they graze is usually to pull up grass using their legs and then using their trunks to pull it to their mouths. That’s what he was doing too. When you see a bunch of elephants doing that, it looks like they are dancing.

Makhna elephant
Makhna Bull
Continue reading “Elephant herds (Kabini Stories – 1)”

Elephants crossing

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.

Pregnant elephant
Pregnant elephant – Nov 2014

Continue reading “Elephants crossing”

The elephants at Kabini

The worst thing about Kabini is always the part about checking out. After my fourth annual visit, I almost feel at home there, knowing the schedule, those familiar faces, the paths etc. As were were heading by the river, I described to the naturalist where we’d seen the tiger, from where it had crossed, and where it had gone. “When was this?” he asked. “Feb 6th last year.” I answered without needing to consult any dates. Of course, I was slightly wrong on the dates and it was the 9th of Feb last year, but the point remains. I can say that the first visit was in May 2012, around the 15th, the second in Jan 2013, around the 20th and the fourth now, Feb 2015 on the 28th. Even with Bandipur, the dates are almost etched in memory, at least approximately – April 22 2011, Oct 25 2012, Dec 23rd 2013 and Nov 1st 2014.

This time around, we started out on the evening one, at 3:45 PM, me and Anand in the back row and a bunch of 4 guys, 3 in the front row and one sitting with us. “There is a call” said the Naturalist and stopped the jeep, looking for a big cat. “Elephants” I announced, having spotted them far away. After a few minutes of waiting for the Tiger to turn up, and noting that the deer in the vicinity were pretty chilled out, he announced that we’d be turning back and going to the other side of a river backwater. I was slightly disappointed at missing out on the elephants and was hoping this wasn’t going to be one of those safaris where you constantly chase big cats while ignoring every other mammal and at the end you end up with nothing. We approached the river backwater from the other side.

Again I announced “elephants.” and then almost cried out “And a calf!”. Am pretty calm during these safaris, keeping silent all the time, but for some reason I felt we were onto something. Right at the banks were standing 2 elephants, and a tiny calf. “Pretty tiny” I said. “Around a week old, must be” said the Naturalist. Younger, I felt. A few minutes later, he revised it – “3-4 days old” I think. The calf was too tiny, wide-eyed and with very little control over her trunk. All this made for some fun viewing. But later I had to agree with his estimate that she was around 4 days to a week old. She was able to use her trunk to suckle milk from her mother. (Am using ‘she’ as ‘it’ seems odd, and for some reason I kept referring to the calf as a she right when viewing, even without any idea of the sex of the calf.) The calf was around her mother and her aunt. The matriarch stood behind, with her back to these two. “She’s pregnant” I noted. The naturalist nodded. So there might be one more next visit?
Elephants Kabini

Elephant Kabini
The calf and the older ones drifted into the water, the calf keeping her trunk up. The older ones waded in as they swam across to reach the other bank, closer to where we stood.
Elephants Kabini

The engine was off and we stood there, watching them, not a word passing, me trying not to foolishly shed tears. Thankfully it worked and I only ended up having a grin of childish wonder.

Elephants Kabini

Elephants Kabini
They climbed out of the water. The aunt nudging the little one out with her trunk. The mother poured sand all over herself. The calf then played all around her legs before using her trunk to get to her teats. The mother kept moving to graze interrupting the poor little one who wasn’t discouraged. We stood there for a while, just hanging around the calf, her mother and aunt. They stopped taking notice of us and went on with whatever they were doing.

Elephants Kabini
After a while, we drove back to the other side which we had left from. The Matriarch stood there grazing keeping an eye out on us. She sure was pregnant. A tusker ambled around. Might’ve been an adolescent son, on the verge of being kicked out of the herd.

Elephants Kabini
The little one continued to fool around on the other side. Sometimes we heard a trumpet of two as she tried to figure out the range of uses of her trunk, or maybe something got into it and she had to blow it out.

We hung around for another 5-10 minutes this side, not feeling like leaving their presence. For a brief while, time came to a halt and everything was great with the world.