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Bhunte: The baby elephant

An illustrated story of a calf

Bhunte: The baby elephant

A note from Bhunte’s creator:

When Science reaches to the common audiences in the form of art- worth understanding- it can do wonders!

Being a researcher working to understand the physiological manifestation, the stress response, in wild Asian elephants, I got a chance to closely observe these magnificent creatures in their abodes.  It was one such wonderful field day in the pristine core of Bandipur National Park, Karnataka, India; when I saw a few months old baby calf playing with dry dung, trying to touch his ears with his tiny trunk and pulling the trunks of his elders in his herd. I was captivated by the innocence and cuteness, he had. I named him- Bhunte.  The images of Bhunte got so imprinted in my mind, that when I reached my field base-camp in Bandipur, I made a cartoon of him. That was where-and-when Bhunte came into the existence; in the form of art.  I am sharing some of my cartoons- clubbed with stories and facts.

So, here we go with some of my fantasies and Bhunte’s world of exploring wild and science…

Bhunte with his brother and mother

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Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel (SSP)

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Ganesha and Bhunte

Dusk entered tip-toeing through the canopy of the forest. Bhunte was tired of all plays with his buddies. He trumpeted bye to all and walked towards his herd who were little away and foraging. When he crossed a mud hill, he saw a small rodent jumping in and out. He sniffed with his trunk and got curious. His tiredness vanished as he started closing the holes on the ground with one foot and another. He enjoyed this! He happily started closing one hole after another to catch the rodent. This tiny rodent too was enjoying the game and was making Bhunte more playful by peeping out of the hole where Bhunte could not reach. Bhunte started pushing the mud with his trunk. It was getting darker. Bhunte was engrossed in his game. He felt a gentle tap behind him and turned around to find an elephant-headed boy standing next to him. He got surprised. The boy had an aura and light all around him. “Bhunte, did you trouble my Musakraj?” the boy smiled and tapped Bhunte. Bhunte trumpeted “No, not at all, I was enjoying the game”. Bhunte came to know the name of a tiny rodent. “Musakraj”, he thought. “I have come to visit some of my folks, I will be here for 10 days, chant my name if you wish to meet me again. They call me Ganesha”. Bhunte was glad. He got two new friends again.
As he was thinking, the light disappeared and Ganesha too. All he could see was some fireflies quarrelling over who will reach the moon first, on that Acacia tree. In front of him, he could see his mother sniffing towards him. And beyond the forest, a huge Tusker uncle was being chased by the villagers. What a scene he thought and he walked towards his mother.

Bhunte, Punte, Dalli and Elephant Apple

Well, I bet you have not seen an elephant hanging on a branch? Bhunte did. He himself was hanging! Bhunte, Punte and Dalli went around to see what mischievous things they could do that evening. And voila! they saw a tree of elephant apples (Dillenia indica). These are the favourite fruits that elephants love munching on and pooping the residuals! And why will Bhunte and his friends miss that chance??? Bhunte grabbed one low hanging branch and started shaking! The branch flew back to its original state, and a poor Bhunte was now hanging! But, he was loving this! Punte came from behind and gently pushed him and started running around out of joy to see his friend up in the air! While, Dalli was on her own mission to bring down the entire tree! And after all these tremors of tiny elephants, here fell down one elephant apple! Thud! on the ground! And another and another! What a joy! Bhunte, Punte and Dalli leaned against the tree and started happily munching…

Less than 10 of Aba, the Vaquita, left in the world…

Little does Bhunte know about the vast world of sea and the enigma within. But, he heard from his distant uncle, Sailo dai, who often travels all around the forest and beyond, that there is a little sea cow ‘Vaquita’ porpoise. One of the little sea cows is Aba. A young vaquita, Aba, knows that their world is soon ending. It was disheartening to know that they are only 10 of them on this entire Earth! Bhunte was sad. He imagined how he would have travelled to the Gulf of California, Mexico to meet Aba. Even though, it would have been the largest distance travelled by the trunk-folks. Both Bhunte and Aba would have sat and shared the stories of their worlds till dusk. How painful it is to know that Aba and his remaining relatives will soon bid a bye to this earth. Because of overfishing, gillnets, meat trades and of course, humans spilling their toxic over the sea have taken a toll on these tiny bright-eyed, Vaquita. The smallest of cetaceans will soon be out of our biodiversity, it ached. Bhunte felt heartburns again…’ if not now, when shall these humans stop being cruel and caring about the majestic animals which are going extinct from this world for no reasons’. Bhunte did not feel like playing. He kept on imagining about Aba and his 9 last relatives.

Dedicated to the Vaquita porpoise…

Read more about Vaquita

The first sleep of Kaavan

Of his trunk and face,
Painted in green.
He rests on the first soft grasses.
And realises it does not hurt.
As he slowly bends down to reach the earth!
How soft it can be!
He never thought…
And fell asleep.
His first!
On the jungle floor!

Sanjeeta Hridayaninadini.

Four tusked Tetralophodon and Bhunte

Bhunte remembers what his Grandmom told him on 17th of February, 2018. Bhunte was always excited to know about his trunk and also his father’s long tusks. Bhunte barely knows that 10 to 11 million years ago (between the late Miocene to the Middle Pliocene), there was an elephant-like animal, Tetralophodon, having four tusks and a trunk, taller than Bhunte’s father (Tetralophodon were about 3 to 3.5 m tall). Feeding on vegetables and fruits on taller trees, they weighed around 50 to 100 Bhuntes brought together, almost 10 tonnes! There were almost 350 different elephant-like ancestors. Tetralophodons were among these. Bhunte will soon bring the stories of many of his extinct relatives…

Note: This is just a graphic representation. The tetralophodon had smaller skulls than the current extant species.

Read more on Tetralophodon: https://doi.org/10.1080/02724634.2019.1632321

Bhunte and Wang Shu’s sleeping herd

Wang Shu and his herd members are travelling through the cities from their home for a few months. Every human, wondering why Wang Shu’s herd is making such a long tour in their habitations, barely know that Wang Shu wanted to be in a new home and also meet his friend, Bhunte. It was Wang Shu’s grandmother who knew the route, which she remembered from her journey with her grand-mom 40 to 50 years back when she was of Wang Shu’s age. She started the journey, therefore. To her dismay, she found that there were no streams to cross and splash water, which she remembers playing with her tiny trunk when her grand-mom dragged her out of the water. No trees to tear up the branches to swat away the flies. She was completely perplexed when she found that there were concrete floors, lights, vehicles, houses, crowds, more concretes! She tried to search more. She guided her herd through these houses and cities, yet did not reach the forest. Wang Shu was tired and so were his cousins. Wang Shu’s grand-mom had no choice but to be back. On their way back to their old home, they rested. Wang Shu and his aunts fell asleep as they travelled almost 500 km. In his dream, Wang Shu saw Bhunte approaching him with his ears raised high and trumpeting towards him. He was excited. He woke up and climbed over his mother to get more sleep. Once Wang Shu will grow into an old Tusker, he will certainly start this journey again to meet his friend…

Why Chellakutty, the elephant, did not destroy the bird nest?

Chellakutty is now the hero amongst all the elephants in Tamil Nadu. He met Bhunte too and you should see, the sparks Bhunte had in his eyes when he saw Chellakutty. Bhunte happily trumpeted and asked Chellakutty to share the illustrious story! Chellakutty dusted off his body and rubbed his skin against the bark of Tectona and ignored Bhunte’s request! That made Bhunte go impatient! Bhunte started walking behind Chellakutty and kept on nagging him by pulling his tail. So finally, Chellakutty rested against a huge Ficus tree and started. “Well, my boy, Banana attracts me. I can’t resist the smell of Banana. Yum, they are!” Chellakutty kept his trunk in his mouth. Bhunte never tasted Banana as it is not his usual food, so could not relate to what Chellakutty must have had in his mind. Chellakutty is among some of the males who secretly venture into human-land during nights. “That night I accompanied some of my friends. Five of us. We went to the nearby Banana farm. We started munching on almost 300 of the plants. Then I heard some chirps. It was from the Banana plant I was about to crush with my head.” Bhunte could see fear in the eyes of Chellakutty. “Those were newly hatched babies. ‘Hey folks, I am sorry, I disturbed you, please kindly rest.’ that is what I said to those sparrow’s nestlings. A mother sparrow was a little grumpy and she kept on staring at me and chirped louder. So I gently retreated and left”. I also took Thambi and other guys away from that plant, even though there was a bunch of yummy bananas hanging!” Bhunte was so mesmerized by the kindness Chellakutty had shown. Bhunte thought once he will grow old like Chellakutty, he too will save many of his tiny friends. While Bhunte was pondering, a tiny bee passed by Bhunte. “Buzzzzzzz, watch out your way my ele brother!” That bee buzzed and left. Bhunte was in his own world, least he cared…

(Based on a true story: https://indianexpress.com/article/trending/viral-videos-trending/elephants-destroy-over-300-banana-tress-leave-one-with-a-birds-nest-untouched-watch-viral-video-7305788/)

Goplu, Bhunte’s friend, thanks Jharkhand

It was night when Goplu was quickly following his herd through the village named Nimatand, Jharkhand. One of the villagers noticed his herd and started shouting. Most of the villagers then came out of their hamlets and started chasing his herd. Goplu’s mother quickly pulled Goplu towards her and rumbled secretly ‘Run Goplu, we have to enter the forest as soon as possible’. Goplu nodded his head and started running behind his mother with all his energy. But then he stumbled over a stone and slipped into the dark tunnel full of water. He got anxious and started looking up, where Gaplu’s mother helplessly stared at him, running left and right to rescue him. Goplu too tried his best to climb up. He could not. It was a 9 meter deep well! Whole night, he struggled. Meanwhile, the villagers chased his mother and his aunts away. He was alone and frightened. He wanted to be with his mom. But he could still hear villagers in the distant. Goplu’s mother too was worried! But, she could not come back to help him! Goplu kept on splashing water with his trunk and paddling his legs to try his best to come out of this dungeon! He tried the whole night! He was tired but he did not give up. In the morning, one of the villagers spotted Goplu. He immediately informed the forest department. Those people came and started digging up the well to break it off. Goplu was scared. He did not know what is happening and why they are digging up. He could hear sounds of engine! The closer they came, more fear bursted in his head. After almost 8 hours, he realized that they were making a way out for him. They broke the dungeon! He tried to climb the open end. He slipped again. But again he climbed. He was full of mud and dust. He was out of the well. He was too weak to walk. With his tired eyes, he gazed at the people who helped him to pull him out. He thanked them from within. All he had in his mind was his mom. He wanted to be with her as early as possible. Meanwhile in the forest away from Jharkhand, Bhunte came to know about this rescue and could not stop but thanking forest staffs of Jharkhand, India. He hoped that Goplu must have met his mother…

Bhunte, Golu and Kale and their bridge!

“Hey, no way! Two of them! That’s painful!” Bhunte trumpeted out of shock while talking to Kale. Kale told Bhunte that Radhakalli and her daughter, one year old calf, were hit by the speeding truck and they died on the road. It was two years ago. Kale raised his trunk and said “these humans should build the bridge high up there, near to the sky, so that we can roam freely on the ground! Without a fear of being hit by those cruel fast-running machines!” Golu nodded his head and raised his trunk too. Bhunte, Golu and Kale dreamt of having a safe haven for them. Unaware of such initiatives called corridors and bridges built to save millions of migrating animals out there in the globe, they fantasized how the bridge should look like. Next to them was their uncle, Gajendra, happily devouring branches and enjoying his musth…

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