Wednesday, March 10, 2010

From Jungle to Jungle.

So we have left beautiful Rishikesh, which was very hard and I actually got a little choked up about it even though I knew we were heading to the jungle in hopes of seeing Asian Elephants and Bengal Tigers. Maybe it was Dolly, maybe it was the culture and scenery or maybe it was the food, but now that I think about it, it was just Rishikesh as a whole. I would recommend that if you come to India you should spend like a week (or longer) taking it easy in the clean(er) air and the fresh(er) Ganges. We will FOR SURE be back one day!

Julian and I headed to Rajaji National Park and it was just okay. It's the place to see Asian Elephants. The scenery is beautiful and it's nice and quiet there. Here are photos that were taken as the sun was rising.

The park reminded me so much of the scenery in The Jungle Book, especially the scene with the of my favourite scenes!

After 2 days in the jungle...we saw one wild male elephant and 3 chained elephants. Here's photos of the wild elephant we saw.

We wondered HOW many elephants were actually in the park and we asked many different people that worked there and we got a different answer every time ranging from 180 to 700. I am aware that there is a language barrier, but I am also aware (after being fortunate enough to visit so many parks in India) that the people will tell you anything even if they don't actually know.
As for the chained elephants, there was once elephant rides available in the park, but those were canceled after the female died, so now they have 2 new elephants that are being trained (which involves whips and sharp objects to stab the elephant and chains from their ankles so they are prisoners.) And the 3rd chained elephant we saw was named Yogi and he was Sanjeev's (the guy who seems to be the biggest influence on the park) legally adopt baby elephant.

Why did he adopt the elephant? Well, he said it was because the mother elephant kept coming back to the same village and eventually she got scared off and accidentally abandoned her baby which was found a couple days later. But still, why is this poor elephant attached to chains? Why wasn't he reunited with his mother in the jungle? Sanjeev said it was always a dream of his to have a pet elephant so after fighting for him, he was able to legally adopt him. Well, I want a baby elephant too, because they are one of my favourite animals, but I know that chaining a creature like this is just plain cruel. He told us that the elephant was chained right now because there was a wild male in the area that could hurt him, and the tigers could attack him too, so this keeps him safe. I also wondered where the 2 new elephants came from that were being trained for elephant rides. Two of the guides told me that they were from in the jungle. I asked them "how a park that claims that they are looking out for the well being of these animals and trying to save the Asian Elephants in India could take wild animals and train them like dogs." And he said "because they want them for the elephant rides." But I said, "why do you need them when you have these fancy jeeps that can drive around the park", and he said "because tourists like the rides." But I soon corrected him and said, "you mean, because you make more money", and he laughed and agreed. I asked Sanjeev these same questions and he tried to reassure me that the elephants came from a zoo in Delhi. What to believe...either way...they are mistreated and I would HIGHLY advise you NOT to support this. Lots of parks offer elephant rides, and they are all treated the same. Over worked and chained and abused. I know I sound like a crazy animal rights activists and slightly self righteous but here are some facts about wild elephants that you may not know.

Elephants are one of the most intelligent animals.
Elephants are self aware, could recognize themselves in the mirror.
Elephants have close knit families/social groups.
Elephants have their own rituals if one of their family members are dead.
Elephants sometimes come back to the remains to pay homage to their ancestors.

And here are some facts about domesticated elephants that you may not know:

-Their soft feet directly comes in to contact with the hot, burning, tarred roads for hours while walking from one location to another. Along with the heave chains on their feet, foot problems and wounds develop, which rarely get a chance to heal.
-They endure the noise, the traffic, commotion, fireworks, while traveling and during festivals.
-They suffer from cruel treatment by the mahouts. A recent article published in Kerala Kaumudi points out that around 90% of domesticated elephants in Kerala are made blind or partially blind, so that they can be easily controlled, and don’t target their mahouts when they are angry.
-They lack proper rest, food and treatment.

So, where ever you can pay to get an elephant bath or go for an elephant ride, you should really think twice! These should be wild animals left in the jungle, not chained in a backyard where they just sway back and forth and back and forth all day in the sun. Don't be a stupid tourist, if you love wildlife, then love it in the wild!
Okay again I went and got really depressing, so lets change the subject shall we!

We left Rajaji feeling a little down, but once we got to Tala in Madhya Pradesh we got VERY excited about the possibility of seeing a Bengal Tiger! We were told that Bandhavgarh National Park was the best place with the greatest chance of seeing one of these beautiful cats! We went out for 4 and a half ours one morning and within the first hour, there she so far away that you would need binoculars to see her. Even with my zoom lens she was hard to spot...but, nonetheless, she was a wild tiger and it was exciting!! So our hopes were really high! If we saw a tiger in the first hour, how many were we going to see?! We went to bed after buying my new puppy friends a samosa for dinner and hydrating them with water. These 2 pups were my new "little monkeys" that I babied for the 4 days we were there...don't worry, I put anti-bacterial spray on my hands after, lol.

They were very young pups with little baby teeth and bloated bellies. I protected them from the abusive locals when I could and I wish I could have brought them with me to Goa where there are 2 animals shelters (the only two in India that I have found that take stray cats and dogs) that could have fixed them up and had them adopted. But alas, they will stay there and hopefully survive and then unfortunately reproduce and create more strays.
But enough about the dogs, lets get to the tigers!! We went out for 9 hours in total on our 3rd day in Tala and can you believe it...we saw NOTHING!! Well not nothing...we saw birds and monkeys and bats and termite hills and scenery, oh and of course spotted dear...but no bloody tigers!!!

Even though tigers are orange and black you would be surprised HOW camouflage they are. We searched and searched. We went back in to the jungle on our 4th day, this would be our last 4 and a half hours in the jungle searching. I was so sure at first that I would get the perfect tiger picture to hang on my wall and now I was feeling like it was hopeless. But within 20 minutes in the park, there was a male tiger! It was a VERY brief siting, but very exciting! I didn't get a very good picture because it was like 6:30am and I had to shoot with 800 ISO and the tiger was far away and his face was looking the other way as he was walking up a hill, but my hopes were up again! Maybe today was our day?! After 3 hours of vultures, a mongoose and a VERY lucky siting of a Jungle Cat, we still hadn't seen another tiger. One of my best friends call me the "animal whisperer" because for some reason when I am around animals they just do the perfect things for photographs, almost like they know and so the pose for me...but I said to Julian, I officially retire as the "animal whisperer". I was feeling a little down. And then ALL OF A SUDDEN, about 20-25 minutes before we had to leave the park...THERE SHE WAS!!! She was like 25 feet from us in the palm bushes with a perfect view and with the PERFECT light casting across her face. Just call me the "animal whisperer" I said, lol. She had two cubs that were hiding in the palm bushes, so we couldn't see them. The guy who worked at the park told us she broke her leg 2 years ago during sex (rough!) and they tried to help her, but she is a wild tiger and they could only do so much, so her leg didn't heal properly, so she sneaks in to local villages where she can kill cattle because it's much easier then chasing spotted deer or sambar deer. She was beautiful!!!

These photos were all taken with a point and shoot camera, so just wait until you see the photos from my DSLR! We have been in India for almost 5 weeks and I have taken 90GB of RAW photos already! It's so photogenic here, I can't help it! But I will have lots of work to do when we get home.
We are waiting for a train right now to Goa. I don't know exactly what adventures Goa will bring us, but I will blog about it soon enough. We will take a boat ride, see some crocodiles, see some dolphins, eat good food, drink fresh juice, and lounge on the beach. I will also spend a couple days volunteering in one of the shelters where I get to cuddle clean puppies all day! I can't wait!! I love India and I never want to leave!


Anonymous said...

Another amazing post, Heather! This one made me laugh lots. So inspired by all of your info and stories. Can't wait to see all the photos when you get back.


Anonymous said...

Hey Heather,

Great to read and see some photos of the tiger! What a great animal isn't it.
I send you the link to my photos in another email. Uploaded a few photos, much more to follow.
Keep up the good work!