Revelation on World Elephant Day
It is now two years that I live almost continuously in the jungle surrounded by elephants. Little by little, I rediscover for myself what must have been the tribal’s knowledge. Therefore, I am not the first on the elephants’ continent, far from it. I even remember seeing on TV Indonesian villagers allowing elephants to “use” their village land during migration. However, experience is different from knowledge. It provides a sense of closeness, a bond.
In the book we recently edited –Giant Hearts, Priya Davidar and I tell an experience we had. To make it short, I went in the middle of an elephant herd to give water to the elephants. As I am better experienced with the elephant body language, I know what to do and how not to disturb them. The elephants observed me and came to drink when the tank was full and we thought it was pure grace. But it was not. It was normal behavior. Elephants are not as aggressive as we think they are and this is how I rediscovered it for myself.
Before leaving Cheetal Walk for a short while, I had to go to the well where a young bull, I was not acquainted with, was standing at nightfall. I decided to go in the full view of the elephant who was 20 to 30 m from the well. However, I walked slowly, deliberately, talking softly to the elephant, making sure he could see me. I always observed him, never went straight at him and I had decided to stop and return to the house at the slightest hint of discomfort. He could charge or run away. But looking at me, he continued to feed, scratched the soil with his tusks, dusted himself. I did my work and I slowly came back to the house, all the time watching the elephant. He did not budge, did not bother.
I was seriously puzzled by this experience that happened on 12 August 2015, World Elephant Day, because it went against what I knew about elephants. My earlier encounter with the herd was exceptional, I thought. I reasoned that the herd or some individuals had a purpose for letting me approach. They may have seen other persons providing water. But here, there was no purpose. The elephant was at peace with me because I approached the right way and did not go beyond his level of comfort, which varies with circumstances. Females with young would have far lower thresholds of tolerance.
With this encounter, I now tend to believe that the aggressiveness we see in elephants is mostly a response to our aggressiveness. We need to change.
It is very true. That the aggressiveness that we see in the elephants is mostly the aggressiveness that we show.
If people can understand the behaviour of elephants or at least the safe distance and level of noise that an elephant can tolerate then this world would be a better place for elephants and human, in fact even together at a safe distance.
The general approach is, if anybody sees any elephant the whole village is altered and then the hero within the group must present himself as close as to the elephants as possible and take his /her selfie. Now as the crowd closeness in on the elephant seeing this foolish behaviour of our dear hero, the hero closes in on the elephant and so on and forth until the safe distance is breached and the hero is charged.
This is forever the situation in Gudalur where you can find elephants near every town, Kokkal hills ( 3kms from Gudalur), Thorapally (7kms from Gudalur), Kattimattam (3 kms from Devala), Kariashola and Pakkana town after 18:00hrs, Mattam enroute to Pandalur, Eliyas kada near Cherangode, Cherangode tantra, Ayyankolly, Cheppanthode (32 elephants last month moving in and around Ammankaav RF). Bitherkad, Puthurvayal, Mollapalli (where your students Prathesh and gang stayed) every night.
Every month or the other there has been elephant chare some ending in fatal injuries some injuries from runnjv away from elephants.
I think there is an urgent need to study the corridor within Gudalur and also about the EPT and adverse impact on elephant populations in an contiguous forest area like Mudumalai-Gudalur-Nilambur forests (also mentioned in ERC Davidar’s paper) and most importantly the adverse impacts of EPTs on human habitation when the elephants cannot move to Mudumalai and tend to get stuck on the way to MTR but being driven from one forest patch (both private and govt RF) to another. The situation of forest staff who are forced to put their lives on the line due to political pressure. The guardians are supposedly becoming one of the people who hate elephant the most because of the risk they need to take to fulfil their managers orders.
Land denied once, but driven to disaster..