Saturday, August 5, 2017

Elephant census 2017

I had been wishing to be part of a national level nature program. It was very lucky of me to see the 3'x 2' column article about the census in the news paper, inviting applications from citizens to volunteer for the program. I arranged for a medical fitness certificate and applied for the same. 
We were intimated about the a day training program at Bannerghatta National Park. During the training we were briefed about the schedule and on field training was given to us on the  methods we were supposed to deploy during the census. 

Srimangala Ranger Office

Till May 10th , I did not get any intimation about the  range I was allotted. When checked in the group mail understood they are yet to be published and the same would reflect in Karnataka forest official web page.

Finally the list got published 3 days prior to the program. However no individual notifications came as the email id marked was wrong. 
I was allotted to Madikeri Wild Life. 
DFO Breifing

May 15- 2332hrs: Boarded the bus at Mysore road bus stand for Madikeri.  Met Kiran a fellow volunteer in the same bus.  

May 16- 0600hrs: Reached Madikeri. My friend Pavi's Cousine came and picked me up and took to Fort Mercara Hotel. Very nice boutique hotel. Took some rest there. Got freshened up. The weather was awesome .

Had breakfast at the hotel itself and moved towards Aranya bhavan. Reached by 9.15am.  The meeting finally started at 10.30am. 

The turnout of volunteers was around 50% only. Presume it was because of the communication failure. Forest college students were also there.

Three DFO's  - started their briefing about the  coming days programs and geographical details. The Range and block  allocations happened during this meeting. 

My Roomies and Team @ Kutiyala
I was  assigned to Range - Srimangala, Block  - Kutiyala. The location was around 75km away from Madikeri Aranya Bhavan. Lunch was arranged at Aranya Bhavan Guest house. Finished lunch and commenced our travel at 1.30. Reached Srimangala range office at 3.30pm.   Post debriefing from Ranger left for Kutiyala. The 3hrs drive in Bolero 4w drive Jeep through the jungle was an experience by itself. Decision to drop all other volunteers and then reach my place was wise and fruitful.

I stayed in this Anti Poaching Camp 

Reached the Anti Poaching Camp ( APC ). Met Mr Raghu the forest guard.  Sharath and Avinash were his assistants. Very warm people. Shocked to see the drinking water they were using. Bit off coloured and tasted  different- muddy flavour like the river water.  Thought how will I manage with this water.  

APC was a small two room concrete building.  Connected by Permanent power which is unpredictable. They have a solar invertor as back up.  Water from nearest water hole is pumped to the tank. No water heater :-(

Checked with Raghu on the food arrangements. As expected it was regular rice and one curry. I requested them if we can have some chicken, egg and some RUM. They agreed to get the stuff sourced from the nearest town 24km away. That was a sign of relief for me.  

Waiting for the elephants to come to water hole.

By 9.00pm we were good to start with our drinks and the chicken. Awesome weather and good drink and great food.  Once done retired to my sleeping bag. It really came handy to avoid the cold and had a comfortable sleep. 
Viper - Very abundantly found in this region.

Machan at Tree top

May 17:  Automatically woke up 5.30am. Very pleasant morning. Breakfast was rice pulav. Got ready and started our activity for the day - block count at 0730Hrs.  It was really hectic and physically demanding. My whole image of forest changed. There was no trail or path. Raghu was literally cutting the branches to make way through. Lots of snakes sighted - viper was common.  Leaches were in abundance. Terrain was very much hilly. Ups and downs. God it was very bad.  The water we carried got exhausted mid way only.  With no option left I started drinking water from the river. The taste difference I felt yesterday had vanished. Here the target was only to quench the thirst. The lunch was the same rice pulav we had in the morning. Could barely  eat it.

After lunch we continued our block survey. Spotted a female adult elephant around 3 pm. Could not click any pics as she was not in great mood and was charging towards us. We reached back to APC  by 5.00pm.  I was like dead tired. Freshened up fast. Had couple of drinks. Dinner was roti and chicken.  The chicken was awesome. Thanks to Sharaths cooking  skills. Retired to my sleeping bag by 2100Hrs. 

May 18: Today was line disect day. Dung count along a straight  2 km line and taking  Lat Lon readings. We were not in a hurry today. Started our day at 8.30am. Raghu had already marked the line previous week itself. Hence some work was saved. The line took us to terrains when we need to trek up and down very steep.

Went to the river enroute. Awesome landscape it was. Reached back to APC by 12noon.  Copied all the recorded reading to the submission sheets.  Lunch - Rice,sambar, egg omelet. Had a great lunch. Evening was leisure.  

May 19: Today was Water Hole monitoring day. Thought it would be very easy as we were supposed to sit at a place and monitor the water hole and make a count of the elephants coming to the water hole. We reached the spot after a small trek around 7.30Am. It had rained heavily the previous night. Leeches were in millions. The tree branches were very slippery.

Chose a location on a tree top where we can make our Machan to view the animals coming to the water hole. We sat there for 10 Hrs at  a stretch. Since it had rained heavily, no animals came to the water hole. Sitting on a tree branch for 10 hrs was really a difficult task. My patience level  was put to tests  so badly that in between i even thought  to abort the task. However I was determined to accomplish the target and did it successfully.

Once back in the APC, we contacted the Ranger and updated him the days results. He advised me that If I wish, I can submit my report at Srimangala Range office and can return home the same night. I was more than happy to hear this. Rescheduled my tickets for the night bus.

Srimangala Range Volunteers
After applying, I had a rough picture in my mind  about  this Census. Since had been to various types of Forest's was pretty confident that this activity would be a cake walk for me. However my imaginations were shattered to pieces as all the events turned out to be completely different from any of my previous experiences.

Stay: It was just meeting the basic necessity. No cot, no bed. Lots of bug noises around you always. No water heater. No European closet in the wash room. No full time water. No full time electricity. No mobile network. 25Km away from any human settlement.

Food & Water: Rice and some regular veg curry. All three meals had rice. However Raghu had helped me with some chicken and eggs  sourced from near by town during my stay. Hence saved. Water was from near by eater hole. Which gets discoloured if it rains.

This trip actually made me realise that I am blessed to be having a life what I am living. I thank almighty for the same. The value of good food and water was reiterated to me by god in this trip. I salute the Forest department personals who live in these adverse conditions and take care of our Jungles.

And lastly I thank Raghu, Bharath & Avinash for all the support and help they extended during my stay with them. Thanks you god for blessing me to be part of the program.