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Exuberant Dandeli --- Elephant census 2012

Wild Tusker at Dandeli..

     After waiting nearly for about 1.5years !! I came to know through news paper that elephant census is to be carried in the entire state of Karnataka, from 22-05-2012 to 24-05-2012 . So quickly I called dandeli Wildlife division office in Karnataka and confirmed my participation as volunteer, all 3 days, for the same.. Accordingly I got all the stuff ready and moved to dandeli on 21st evening. I went  straight to Dandeli wildlife division office and reported. The officer present there was very kind enough person to welcome me and told me about the work we need to do for next 3 days. So I was given instructions as how to count elephants and what to do once we spot them. I was given accommodation at Kulgi Nature camp. 
Signboard to caution people

Basically elephant census is carried once in 5 years, but it keeps varying as and then. Elephant number gives a rough idea about the green cover of forest, like availability of grass/bamboo on which herbivorous animals depend.Good elephant no indicates,green cover of forest is good. Good vegetation inturn keeps carnivorous numbers up. Its like a chain. Everyone is interdependent.

There are 3 methods to do census.
1)By direct sighting method:- In this method, we volunteers along with department people cover entire forest by foot. Every forest guard along with watchers walk their range of Jungle.. every range is roughly is about 15-20kms… once elephants are spotted we need to note certain points in format given to us before and take photographs for better identification.. Photographs are used so that overlapping of same elephant count is minimized. 
         2)By Line transect method:- This is a bit complicated method where in we have to count elephant dung(Fresh and old) along and beside 2km transect line which is at certain angles... later by using a complicated formulas and calculations elephant number can be identified..
              3) By water hole counting method:- Here we sit near a water hole for an entire day from 6am to 6pm and count elephants which come near water hole. This is more accurate method as all elephants compulsorily come to drink water atleast once in  a day..
DAY 1:-
First day of census  i.e   on 22nd    ,I was excited  as it was my first time experience about such a thing... we were told to be ready by 6am, and accordingly at 6am, Me along with a forest  guard and 2 watchers started walking inside our range of forest. On first day we had to do census by direct sighting method. So we tried to locate elephants on regular paths used by them. One might think that elephants are huge mammals and hence they can be traced very easily, but that's completely a mistake as it is very difficult to track them. After walking for about 4 hours inside forest and covering nearly 6-8kms, we spotted herd of 8 elephants along with chital deer. We tried to be as silent as possible, so as to  not scare deer or elephants, both were unaware of our presence. It was only about a minute, we had not even seen them properly when a machete, which forest watchers carry, slipped off hands of one of our forest watcher and deer started running which inturn alerted elephants and even they started running away after making very loud trumpet, It was such a disappointment!! We did not click our camera  even once and the elephants were gone!!.. But the watcher who had dropped his machete promised us that he will trace the same elephants  again.These people have an unusual technique and knowledge of locating animals..The watcher kept on following vital clues like elephant foot prints, trees which it had fallen, its dung and finally after walking for about 8kms nearly after 3 hours  again we found  same herd of 8 elephants.
                                                                             Herd of elephants on day 1.(5 adults and 3 calves)

Matriarch female
Me and watcher having a close look..
This time we were more careful, and started inching towards them with as less sound as possible.. The elephants were unaware of our presence and they carried on with their routine. While I took some quick snaps,  the guard recorded data of each and every elephant. It was such a magnificent sight to watch these giants in their natural habitat..the 3 calves played with each other, while one of bigger females brought down a teakwood tree..It was such a loud noise!! .tree breaking noise could be heard very far in jungle..Now nearly after 10mins one of adult females turned and started moving towards us... tough we were a safe was a bit scary... Luckily it turned aside and moved away from us. That was sigh of relief. Now, nearly after 20mins, the matriarch female decides to move and all 8 elephants were gone out of sight in no time.. Though they are huge, elephants can move very fast, within split second they were no where to be seen.!! I personally was very much thrilled to spot herd of elephants in wild…I saluted those watchers and guard for their extra ordinary knowledge in locating them, these foot soldiers have have great affinity towards wild life. Time Now it was around 1.30pm and we left for anti-poaching camp located very near for lunch.. During lunch I came to know that another group who were walking next to our range spotted a male tiger!!! That would’ve been sooo thrilling..We finished our lunch and went  into forest again to find still some more elephants,  this time in another area of our same range…But no luck… we could not spot any elephants nor did we find any other animals as it was noon time.. finally we came out of forest at 4pm..
   There was back waters of a dam(reservoir)  in our range where elephants come every day in evening by crossing road to drink water and bathe. we were given instructions to wait on main road which they cross to reach back water.  Accordingly we split up into 2 groups, 2 each,  and hid ourselves near the road which elephants normally use to cross the road. We were on two places waiting for them. After nearly 1hr at 5.30pm group of 4 elephants crossed  road on route in which we were hiding.  Tough we ran behind them to get snaps, they ran faster than us and we could not trace them again came back on road to the hiding place. Later after half an hour a herd of  6 elephants crossed same road where we were hiding!! We informed our other team and even they came running.. this time we allowed them to go inside water and stood behind a big tree from where we took some of their snaps!! Now it was around 6.30pm and was getting dark.. as we had to count them till 6pm so we started moving back to kulgi camp but wait it was still not over!! While walking on road back to camp  a huge male tusker was spotted!!.. I could not take photo as it was dark and the guard told me not to put on flash..The tusker just zipped infront of  us. I could not believe my eyes.. Spotting a  very huge male elephant with both tusks was an awesome sight.. Finally I reached our camp at was end of day one…. It was such a nice feeling to spot 19 elephants on a single day!! Phew… I was very happy  about it..and the pain of walking nearly about 20kms was no more an issue….Thus day one of elephant census ended with me spotting 19 of them..

Camera trap 

DAY 2:-

2nd day of census was by transect line method. So again I was ready to go at 6am.  In this method a 2km line was already marked and we went along the same sighting elephant dungs and measuring perpendicular dist of the same from the line and note down them.. I was hopeful of seeing some wild animals else than elephants today. But no, We did not have sightings of any elephant nor any other animal. But we saw hornbill birds. Lots of them. As line transect method takes a bit less time so 2nd day  of elephant censuswas over by noon. While on way back came across camera traps  set up to study tigers in the area.  So,  2nd day finished very    early without any sighting and I was back in camp by 4pm.

DAY 3:-
Last day of elephant census was by water hole method, where in we had to sit near a water hole in our range from 6am to 6pm and note down elephant specifications when they come to drink water..I guess, counting elephants by this method is more effective as elephants compulsory come to drink water once in  a day. So, we moved near a water hole in our range at 6am.We waited  till 12.30 pm, no elephant nor did any other animal come near the water hole. I was getting a bit bored by sitting ideal and doing nothing, so I along with another volunteer thought of  relaxing our muscles a bit and started walking along the water hole. we had gone just  for about  150mts and to our surprise , the same  huge male tusker which I’d spotted on day one, on road, came to drink water!! He appeared from no where. we were stunned and surprised at huge sight of this male. It was an awesome and scary moment especially for me as I was very near to it... as soon as we saw this tusker, both of us hid ourselves amid short grass and the tusker started drinking water as we slept/laid  down completely amidst short grass to watch the gigantic animal play in water. The male elephant was unaware about us so it continued playing around in water carelessly. After having some large gulps of water it got itself immersed completely inside water.It was fun to watch it. But after some 15mins it saw us!! And now our heart started pounding rapidly…I was scared… if it wants to then the tusker could’ve easily ran over and trampled upon us.. but here we understand a very calm and composed nature of this giant beast.. instead of coming towards us or threatening us the tusker got up and slowly went to other side of water hole, where in we both were at considerable distance from each other.. This behavior of tusker increased my respect towards these magnificent mammals which avoid humans as much as possible.                                            

                                                                                         Magnificent male tusker, day 3, Dandeli 



Tough nature has gifted them with immense strength they avoid, as much as possible, using it against other species. Finally after some 20mins of drink and bathe the tusker left us and went inside forest.. I did not find it again… But it was such an immense pleasure to watch this magnificent animal especially having  both the tusks and that too twice at a very close distance… Now, we came back to place where we were earlier sitting and told remaining people regarding the same.. they were thrilled but lamented an opportunity to watch a tusker sooo close.
Now it was around 2pm and we left again to anti-poaching camp, very close to water  hole, to have our afternoon lunch… since it was very hot noon so post lunch  we sat in there listening to hair raising experiences of  forest guards and watchers of their encounter with wild animals..After having lunch we went again near that water hole and waited again till 5.30pm without any sightings.. It was then we received message that 5-6 elephants,were coming near our water hole.. So we hid ourselves properly around bushes and there!!Big and magnificent elephants which included 3 calves and some adults… came to drink water.This time we were a bit far away from their eye sight.. So there was no disturbance for them to carry on their routine work. It was such a beautiful sight to watch them play in water. They went inside the water and submerged themselves completely, without even fearing the mighty crocodile present in same water.. The calves played with each other while adults kept a watchful eye at them and around them . It was interesting to see them put wet mud  and water on top of them. The guard present with me noted down specifications of each elephant.My most loved moment was when one of the females came out of water to suckle its young. While the younger of them suckled its mother. The other females stood guard for them, watching out for any danger.... . finally  after some 15-25mins all of them went away from us inside deep forest…This would be one of the most cherished moment of my journey..It was  a feast for our eyes to watch sooo many elephants play in water...

                                                                                               Elephants at water hole, Day 3

Time now was 6.30pm and I made myself realize the fact that this beautiful work of elephant census, of 3days,  had come to an end….since it was late, so we all volunteers decided to move back home the next day.

Thus, we bid adieu to wonderful experience of  knowing forest for 3 days. we thanked entire forest department staff, be it officers, guards, watchers, drivers, camp people, everyone was soo kind and supportive to us. I had a very beautiful time of 3 full days inside forest.. I guess everyone should experience wilderness atleast once in their life time...

Video link of lone tusker at noon and herd of elephants at evening,  taken by one of my fellow volunteer( Madan Jaggannath) is below.


An encouraging news, according to census data released in Feb 2013, Karnataka is now home to around 6,072 elephants.. which is an increase as compared to previous numbers of 5800, in 2010..
Kudos to conservation efforts, elephants are seeing rise in their numbers...

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  1. Vow, thats such a nice experience you had.. hopefully i would join it next time :)

  2. Great. Enjoyed the detailed description. The encounter with the tusker was exciting.

  3. Hey Adarsh, That was wonderful experience you had.. and very well explained.. Liked it.. :-)

  4. Enjoyed reading your experience Adarsh, well explained blog. Sooo close with gigantic elephants.