Stop: Mysore, India by Elliott Hester
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massive elephant took two steps forward, raised its trunk high,
blew an ear-shattering trumpet blast, and then charged. I dropped
my camera. The woman beside me screamed. Along with three other
tourists, we stood in the back of the jeep, frozen with fear and
disbelief. Elephants aren't supposed to attack nature lovers at
wildlife reserves. But this elephant apparently did not know the
earlier the massive mammal had been fifty yards away, stripping
tree bark with its powerful trunk and eating greedily. Then suddenly
and seemingly without provocation it charged straight
the days leading up to this predicament, I boarded a train in Delhi
and survived a 35-hour, 1,500-mile journey to Bangalore. From there
I caught a bus to Mysore which lies 3 hours to the south. A hired
car took me 50 miles farther south to Karapur, home of Nagarahole
National Park (also known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park).
400-square-mile animal reserve is perhaps the best remaining habitat
for the endangered Indian Elephant. Strict protection from poachers
allows an estimated 4,000 elephants to roam unmolested through Nagarahole's
undulating forests. Having no other natural predators, elephants
can live here happily for up to 60 or 70 years.
addition to elephants, the park is populated by a host of interesting
critters: gaur (the world's largest wild oxen), sloth bears, spotted
deer, wild dogs, crocodiles, tigers, leopards, cobras, and nearly
300 different birds including Black eagles and Shaheen falcons.
the first day of my 2-day visit, I checked into a cabin at Kabini
River Lodge (www.junglelodges.com). A private hunting lodge for
the Maharaja of Mysore until 1955 when the national park was created,
the property sits on the bank of the Kabini River near Nagarahole's
tea at the Gol Ghar, a circular open-air restaurant overlooking
the river, I hopped in the back of a resort jeep for a wildlife
tour of the park. While our driver wheeled the jeep along the dirt
track, a naturalist sat beside him, providing information about
the park and its inhabitants.
wild dogs have to work together in order to survive." He said
this as a pack of wild dogs leapt across the trail ahead, their
red coats and bushy black tails bobbing through the forest conspicuously.
Their pet-like appearance is deceptive, however. Hunting in packs
of 8 to 12, "they will even attack tigers if confronted."
bounced along the trail, stopping to gaze as interesting animals
appeared. I saw strutting peacocks that neglected to spread their
colorful feathers. Langur monkeys leapt from tree to tree, their
long tails dangling perhaps 4 or 5 feet. A lone gaur bull stared
from the shade of a bamboo tree. Neon-blue Indian Rollers (Blue
Jays) flew overhead, flashing the forest with brilliant color. I
saw bison, owls, even a hooded cobra that slid across the trail
and disappeared into the bush.
upon dozens of spotted deer leapt gracefully away from the approaching
jeep. Some watched from the forest as we drove by. Others grazed
in the distance, rump to rump with their unlikely brethren: the
deer and boar are very good friends," said the naturalist.
If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it.
Wild boars are ferocious creatures. Weighing as much as 400 pounds
and with razor-sharp tusks, they are extremely aggressive and have
been known to gore tigers to death. Yet boars graze peacefully among
the spotted deer, one of Nagaraholeís most defenseless inhabitants.
did not see any of the purported 70 leopards that inhabit the park.
Nor did I see any of the 60 tigers. (Both cats are extremely shy
and only show themselves occasionally.) But I saw elephants. Perhaps
100 or more.
the distance, a small herd of elephants kicked up clumps of grass
with their front feet. I watched closely while they used their trunks
to grab the clumps and shovel the grass into their mouths.
along the track, we came upon a heard as it tore bark from trees.
The naturalist explained that elephants need to eat around 400 pounds
of food daily in order to remain healthy and satisfied. The matriarch,
not the bull, manages the herd. Although cursed with poor eyesight,
elephants have a keen sense of smell and are quick to protect themselves
the safety of the jeep, I pointed my camera and pressed the shutter
again and again. Speaking in a whisper, the naturalist noted that
the matriarch had begun to move in a circle around the herd. "She's
teaching the baby how to charge," he said.
elephants stood shoulder to shoulder with the baby flanked by the
two largest ones. The naturalist then did something that in retrospect
he probably shouldn't have. He got out of the jeep.
told the driver to keep the engine running and then took a few cautious
steps toward the herd. "Watch this," he said, and took
the matriarch raised its trunk and let loose a knee-wobbling shriek
that will haunt me to the grave. Then the elephant charged. It moved
quickly, like a sprinter out of the blocks. I can't say that my
life flashed in front of me, but I dropped my Nikon and nearly soiled
naturalist casually open the car door and got in. As if on cue,
the elephant stopped abruptly and returned to the herd.
was a 'mock' charge," he said, noting that the pursuit lasted
only 2 or 3 seconds. Apparently, elephants sometimes pretend to
charge when other animals get too close. But when you're standing
at the receiving end, there's nothing "mock" about an
elephant running toward you.
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stop: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
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