Catastrophic loss of fishes in Sigur Halla

The "Sigur "River", a former ecosystem, source of protein for Tribal people and water for wildlife.

The “Sigur “River”, a former ecosystem, source of protein for Tribal people and water for wildlife.


When we first settled into Cheetal Walk in the 1960’s, the favorite activity of my siblings and myself, encouraged by our father of course, was catching fish in the Sigur River or Sigur Halla. There were all sorts and sizes of fish. My father used to go to the larger pools with a bamboo rod, line and worms dug up near the kitchen, to catch some carp for dinner. In fact, the tribal woman working for us said quite sadly one day: “poor man is catching fish so that his family can eat.” Those were the fish those days, sometimes reaching a few kilos in weight.

In 1968 everything changed: the river went dry. This was because of the construction of the Pykhara dam in the upper reaches of the river, increasing agricultural activity and diversion of water downstream. There were fish of all types and shapes and colors flopping around on the sand or dying in the pools. The river was fetid with the smell of dead fish. Many animals enjoyed this special treat, but the elephants were distraught by the lack of clean water. They dug wells in the river bed and waited patiently for the water to rise up to drink. We went fishing with the tribal children and caught some of the larger fish. We even caught an enormous eel well over a meter in length weighing about 10 kg.

The Sigur Halla started drying up every year and the fish disappeared. After the rains I would go to the river and see fingerlings emerging from the eggs that had been deposited in the sand. This continued for a few years and we enjoyed fishing with bedsheets, catching the small fish and putting them in an aquarium. My brother Mark used to have two aquaria in the 1990’s with some of the river fish. We used to put some in our well. Our well held water even in the dry season, although the level was very low. We had not been to Cheetal Walk for many years except for short spells, and when we moved there in 2013, the river had just become a storm drain with red muddy water only flowing during the rains. When peering into the well, I noticed one fish: a species of murrell (Channa spp.) also called snakehead, at the surface of the water. Seeing its sad lonely life, I thought it was the sole survivor of the fishes we had put inside the well. There were several species of murrell in the river, but now I never saw even one. During the rains this year I looked again for fingerlings. No luck.

I was determined to find a companion for our lonely murrell, so I asked our cook, who is a tribal person from this region, to find me some river fish. He said that none of the rivers in the region, Anaikatti, Sigur or Mavinhalla had even one fish. All had disappeared due to the drastic change in flow patterns. This got me really worried. He reiterated that there were plenty of fish forty years ago but all had gone. About 25 or more fish species became extinct in the Sigur Halla.

Then a few days ago we wanted to clean the well and noticed more than one fish in the well. What joy! The Murrell was not alone. Maybe we need to examine old wells and other permanent water bodies (if any) in the region to re-stock the Sigur Halla if it ever recovers from the colossal negligence and indifference it has suffered from human hands. To make the River flow again, we need to be sure there is a minimum amount of water at all times, and young ecologists who take its future in their hands.

Priya Davidar.

Sauron in real life



It is now more than two years that we have been in charge of the Sigur Nature Trust. The experience was at first exciting: to be in the middle of elephants and wildlife is something irreplaceable. But then I started to understand what is going on in the Sigur Region and this silenced me for some time. I was busy as well, but ultimately traumatized because I have lost hope that we can improve conservation of species.

Everyone has seen or read “The Lord of the Rings”. Sauron could revive because the corruption of men. To end evil seemed impossible because every time anyone got Sauron’s ring, fell to his power. The task to destroy Sauron was impossible. But the fairy tale happy development was due to a lucky accident: the addition of two “greeds”, that of Frodo and that of Gollum, lead to the destruction of the ring.

I know a lot of good people in the Sigur Region among all segments of the population. But these people don’t matter. The general consensus by those who matter, is to make money. Everyone, in all administrations use the law to this purpose. Patrolling and enforcement are non-existent, unless useful to get bribes or when absolutely required by circumstances. This is not due to a lack of training, lack of funds or poverty. What you observe is an insane waste of resources, erosion of ecological processes by the enrichment of a few at the expense of the others.

The addition of “greeds” cannot logically nurture a happy ending in reality. The elephants are going down again with poaching and us with them: look at the conditions of the planet. We are not in a fairy tale and the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat are poisons. How to stop a mindless search for gold when the world itself is all rust?

If more people don’t get involved in the state of the world, eventually the world next door, we will have difficult awakenings. The Baghavad Gita said something like: the most astonishing about men is that they live their lives as if they were eternal. A modern version could be: the most astonishing about men is that they live their lives as if their impact on the world never mattered. This is a  quasi-total denial of Karma particularly by people in power. And I am afraid we will have to split humanity in two: those who fight without hope and those who live happy in hell.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud

The worst killer pleads non-guilty



I got this image from, the blog of an eminent ecologist, Corey Bradshaw.

It originated from Bill Gates’s blog, from WHO data and various other official agencies, with wide margin of errors. Bill Gates is interested in mosquito borne diseases, we are interested in elephants.

If the figure had taken pollution (the outcome of some people’s greed) into consideration, then millions of people are killed every year by other humans, according to a study in Environmental Research Letters (doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034005), which makes us and by far, the most dangerous animal species on earth. Sorry for the mosquitoes.

These considerations help us to bring the human-elephant conflict back to reality. In general, this problem is presented out of proportion by the media. Why? Not because of its relative importance but because of its populistic appeal: “the authorities called experts to address the problem”, do we read. It looks serious and elephants are easy targets.

The most important causes of mortality like pollution, rash driving and various forms of safety issues (lack of warnings on road repairs; live electric wires on pavements, distribution of unsafe water, lack of application of buildings norms, unhygienic restaurants, etc.) are ignored because it would fix responsibilities on the perpetuators. And laissez-faire is the rule if you don’t want to punish the (human) culprits.

Laissez-faire is also the rule for elephants because we don’t want to punish the (human) culprits either. If you believe that the hundreds of human deaths by elephants are due to the nasty nature of these animals, you are mistaken. Many “conflicts” are “accidents” where people did not respect the law (you can’t enter into protected areas for example, but this is not strictly enforced) and many other “conflicts” are the consequence of the lack of management (unregulated constructions in corridors, inappropriate agricultural practices, forest encroachments). Very few people are killed intentionally by “vicious” elephants, although it does happen. In the region where we live, human deaths due to elephants are mostly because due to carelessness.

The consequence of the lack of application of the law is the eventual extinction of the Asian elephant.  It is the easy way to avoid our responsibilities.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud.

Mad versus Wild


There is a TV program called “Man versus Wild” were one or two guys run around frantically in remote places to “survive” in the wild, with a TV crew around them to ensure the show goes according to schedule. I wonder how imaginative the producers must be, to find such fantastic (fake) stories to tell, because tribals in India live or used to live in the wild and don’t have half the problems this show seems to unearth in the face of a decidedly adverse nature.

I live in the jungle (with moderate comfort) but share some of the experience of the natives. Most of my life is quiet, peaceful, with animals who know me, interspersed with a few rare moments of tragedy when a prey is caught. I frankly see no opposition between man and nature, on the contrary, deep, beautiful bonds that reach some of our wild friends, a few mongooses, elephants, babblers, one or two wild boar.…

Now I just come from my second home, Pondicherry, with a trip to Chennai. There, I find noise, terror on the road, constant anger, absurd competition, and struggle in an ugly, polluted world. Then TV displays unbridled violence with virtual killing of millions, interspersed with reminders from the industry that it is okay to be greedy, jealous, unnaturally muscular, permanently “beautiful”, but that we can stuff ourselves with junk. And as if we needed to be even more insane, we have at your disposal many channels where superstition and money are worshipped together.

The reason we have to make and watch programs such as “Man versus Wild” is because our perception of reality is so altered that we can’t even accept nature as it is. We have to make is as bad as we are with our fabricated banal sensationalism. We are losing our marbles and we should call this particular program “Mad versus Wild” to regain some senses.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud.

Here is the dead baby elephant, 21 Sept. 15, Bandipur.

I usually complain about Mr. Peter Davidar taking photographs. Little did I know he was with his camera when we were witnessing the incident of a baby elephant killed. Here are his photographs – I won’t complain any more.

Vehicles waiting for elephants, including the tanker (see our previous post).

Vehicles waiting for elephants, including the tanker (see our previous post).


Mother with dead baby.

Mother with dead baby.

Dead baby elephants evaporate from statistics.

On 21 Sept. 15, we saw a dead baby elephant on the Mysore – Gudalur highway at 4:30 pm inside the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, 2 – 3 km before the border with Tamil Nadu. Minutes earlier, we saw a Karnataka State Corporation bus rushing at an insane speed. No other car coming in the opposite direction had any sign of collision with a large animal. We were the first to inform the border check post of the Karnataka Forest Department and immediately after us, the driver of a tanker provided the same information in our presence, of a dead baby elephant. Half an hour later, we were informed that no such incident had happened (the hit and run accident with a baby elephant). A day later we “heard” there was a hit and run case at the same time on 21st September which killed a baby elephant but the Karnataka Forest Department claims it was in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. What is the real story? Are there any other witnesses?

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud.

Rivaldo being treated.

Rivaldo is a symbol

Rivaldo is a symbol

As the readers of the Hindu know, ( Rivaldo, the emblematic elephant of the Sigur Range, Nilgiris, has been attacked by another tusker and hurt. For ten days, the Forest Department staff including the Thepakaddu veterinary doctor and the Singara Range Officer supervised the treatment operation at the Sigur Nature Trust premises. The operation was non-traumatic for the elephant because he was not captured as Rivaldo has already been treated in the Sigur Nature Trust premises, he was easily brought back by a Forest Guard who regularly looks after him. Antibiotics and nutrients were delivered in fruits. Since Rivaldo is very docile, the wounds could be sprayed with various medicines, in a relatively safe environment.

The treatment was effective and Rivaldo’s wounds regressed. However, treatments without capture present the inconvenience that wounds cannot be cleaned directly and sutured. The healing is slower and the Forest Department staff and all Rivaldo’s friends will follow him up till the wounds are healed.

Treating an elephant is a remarkable operation involving approximately 15 staff members for ten days, plus the cost of medicine and food to maintain the elephant focused without stressing him. Some guards need to be very close to the elephant, feeding him by hand. Other personnel, including the veterinary doctor take enormous (but controlled) risks approaching the elephant on the side. These operations require expertise and are relatively dangerous for the public, as the elephant remains free of its movement.

All wild elephants cannot be treated because in principle, they are supposed to survive in natural conditions provided by protected areas, where they sometimes meet with accidents, infections, predators etc. and die of natural death. But as tuskers have been heavily poached, it is good management practice to treat the easier cases. Moreover, some animals, like Rivaldo, become emblematic – the symbol of humanity’s love towards elephants. In a world where Asian elephant are endangered according to the IUCN, it is comforting to see dedicated attention extended towards elephants.

During the whole operation, Rivaldo has been calm and gentle. He is a real foody and no one knows for sure if he understood why he was treated with jackfruits, sugarcane and other candy-like food. But all witness to this operation can testify that Rivaldo was delighted of the attention he received, slowly closing his eyes when his favorite guard petted him. At the end of each day, he had his five minutes of absolute peace with humanity and it was beautiful to see.

Our desire here is to inform, without being sensational (hence the absence of names, except that of Rivaldo) and without attempting to express any expert opinion. We were host of this operation, our opinion cannot be that of a professional veterinary doctor. However, we want to pay homage to the Forest Department staff who was present for 10 continuous days, during the week ends or festivals. Without their dedication, Rivaldo may not have survived. We are grateful for their effort.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud.

Rivaldo, the hero of our folly.

Rivaldo sleeping

Rivaldo sleeping

Rivaldo made it to the national news in this article: Tusker won’t leave village that treated him.

Rivaldo is a friendly elephant. Too friendly. Rivaldo has been habituated and fed long time ago by people who did not know what they were doing and then used this elephant for their entertainment – and income. Like most habituated elephants, he became confident with humans, probably visited a house and got its trunk cut. He could have died but he was treated. Other elephants were not so lucky: Roberto Carlos was fed – and shot in the leg. Cafu was fed – and shot. There is very little reason why Rivaldo should be grateful to humans, because he got his share of stones and fireworks. If we could teach him, we would ask him to stay as far as possible from humans. Even though journalists are trying to show elephants in a good light (elephants are nice), sensationalism gets the better. Unfortunately, it turns out that this was not such a heart-warming story. It is another banal, chilling example of human idiocy, cruelty and cynicism. Rivaldo is slowly becoming a circus elephant, fed by anything tourists will leave behind. His territory has become small and instead of roaming the jungle like his ancestors did, he explores wastelands. If you love wild animals, leave them alone. In the photograph attached, admire Rivaldo sleeping and see for yourself: we don’t disturb him. He comes and goes as he wishes and we don’t feed him. He is our wild friend and we respect his freedom. He is not our pet.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud.

Nature is sacred: start worshiping at home.


We have often been told: “this place is sacred, keep it as it is” about Cheetal Walk. In a way, it reveals that people associate pristine nature with sacredness. Cheetal Walk however is nothing like pristine. For millennia, people have inhabited this area, hunted, cultivated, cut trees and herded cattle. It looks pristine today because it remained untouched for a few generations, and because we have decided to protect it.

Einstein, I believe, once said something like: “or everything is sacred or nothing is sacred.” People may consider nature to be sacred because it is the source of our very lives. Wild animals are beautiful, natural landscapes are absolutely gorgeous and intelligence seems to flow from every corner. The more we learn, the more we see how the law of nature produces a machinery compared to which our modern technology is child’s play.

But the same people who appreciate nature’s “sanctity” (maintained by private people, communities or governments), find no contradiction in getting into their SUVs, driving back on mad roads into overpopulated cities, work in small offices and live in boxes. This is modern lifestyle, you cannot do anything about it, there is no choice…

The problem is not so much that life is difficult in a polluted, inhuman reality. We are all there. The problem lies in the schizophrenia we have developed about nature, the separations we have built. On the one side, we have our busy cities where we are active, smart and make money, and on the other side, we have a “pleasant” stetting to unwind and relax. Today, the holy-day (also supposed to be dedicated to the sacred) is used to consume the remaining wild, to desecrate our world a little more with activities that do not differ from our routine: I want money, I want to achieve, I want to see a tiger, I want a selfie with an elephant, I want a bonfire, I want to see a charge, I want to see animals at night, I want a good road to get there, I want a spa, etc.

Now, if you consider everything to be sacred, then your office is sacred, your flat or house is sacred, your car is sacred. From all these gadgets, emerge a relationship with nature. So why not use a little bit of your hard-earned money to help conservation? Why not put some (rustic) tomatoes to grow on your balcony? Why not purchase a convenient car that pollutes less? Why not preserve an untouched space in your garden? Why not have a holy-day in a good eco-resort that tries to preserve nature instead of destroying it (this is hard to find and if you check, you will see that this industry has abysmal records to the point of destroying their very source of survival).

Next time you tell a guy that nature is sacred, if you do this, he will consider you to be a saint instead of a worshiper of futilities.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud.

Surviving the charge of a duck

A terrifying duck charge

A terrifying duck charge

As I am often far from Pondicherry where we live, my wife purchased three ducks for company. One male duck is territorial and charges. I have seen our servant giving him a good whack with a stick (she was told not to hit the duck) because she is frightened of him, even though he is a perfectly innocuous animal. Its bite is nothing more than a tickle. However, I was also charged and observed that I felt a strong reaction. A duck weights two kilos and a human-being sixty kilos. A human-being is thirty times heavier than a duck. In the same manner an elephant is tens of times bigger than a human being, but would feel a bolt of emotions if anyone goes directly towards it.

In my opinion, there are four situations pertaining to encounters with elephants or other wildlife: the animal is unaware of human presence, aware but comfortable, uncomfortable, and sufficiently disturbed to flee or charge. I am talking of situations instead of distance because one can be very close to animals but undetected if our scent does not waft towards them. Response distances also varies with sex and conditions. Female elephants with babies are extremely aggressive and will be uncomfortable with humans as soon as they detect them.

With wildlife, responsible people will not go to the extent of disturbing animals. It is unethical to ask jeep drivers to provoke an elephant to charge, and photographers should not disturb birds roosting or nesting. Wildlife observation by itself provides sufficient pleasure when animals are left to their own devises. Beautiful encounters happen only when their behavior is natural, when they are not threatened in any way.

Many television programs disregard ethics to be sensational. Professional people disturb animals only I they must. For example, animal surveys create disturbance, but still need to be carried out if we want to know how many animals are present in a reserve. Beyond absolute necessity, no one should take the liberty to provoke additional stresses to species that are on the verge of extinction, because it endangers them further. Moreover, it is dangerous and too many people are killed by “accident”, that are not really accidents but involuntary or voluntary provocations.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud.