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 always spotted her, saw her following her group and grabbing fishes by her claws. Today when Bhunte was splashing his reflection over the river with his trunk, she jumped out and her jaw had Macharani who was crying for help. Macharani’s scales were full of green algae. She yelled ‘Help!’ and gasped for the last breath. Bhunte immediately caught the tail.
‘Caught you!’ Bhunte trumpeted.
Macharani slipped from her jaw and fell into the river, quickly thanked Bhunte and disappeared.
‘Tell me your name’ Bhunte was in a jolly mood as he thought he did a good job by saving Macharani.
‘Ouch! Bhunte stop! Let me go! I am Pani-nani! Now, leave my tail! It’s hurting!’
Bhunte was surprised that she knew his name and that made him happy.
‘Pani-nani, tell me more about you’.
‘First let me go, then I will tell you the story’.
Bhunte immediately let her tail down.
‘I am Pani-nani, we are called the common Otter or Eurasian Otter. We are among the 13 otters found all over the world. I am fond of eating fishes. I love playing with my group, like you. Once when I was playing with my aunt’s pups, I saw your trunk inside the water! I was about to grab it thinking it was a fish! But it was you and your mom called you. That’s how I know your name. Our playing area, or you can call it territory, can range from 1 km to 40 km of the river. We fish and munch on them. My whiskers are very sensitive to fishes and to my food. We have a very good sense of smell. Though we love swimming, we can’t stay in the water for long; and most of the pups stay inside our house called holt and they don’t like swimming. See over there, you can see my holt (she points out with her webbed claw). Sadly, humans have destroyed our house. Our river. By adding some bitter and deadly substances! People hunt us to make use of the fur and our meat. Recently our old cousin was hunted by some people. I saw they dragging him by the river bank. They have taken away our food- the fishes! So I am very scared of people! And you too took away my meal!’
‘Oh, I am sorry Pani-nani. I never thought people trouble you too. They have destroyed our abode. And yours. Once I grow up as a tusker, I will defend my forest. Don’t worry.’ Bhunte gave that determined gesture and chirped.
‘Okay, Bhunte, I am hungry. I am going deep into the river. And, I may go to the other side. I will meet you soon’ She waved her webbed foot and plunged into the water.
Bhunte, like always, had a mixed feeling. He did not know whether to be happy that he met Pani-nani or to be sad to hear her story!
Bhote, the baby snow leopard, lives on the cold rocks of the high Himalayas in Nepal and the adjoining areas. Unlike Bhunte, he is fond of hunting. It’s very hard to see Bhote and other snow leopards. Bhunte may not have seen Bhote, but he knows a lot about him. Bhunte’s mother told him about Bhote and how important they are to the high Himalayas. Sadly, there are only 4000 to 6500 of them left. Bhunte do not want Bhote to be troubled, like his friend Pukule. To spread the awareness, Bhunte will run, with other biologists, for 24 hours in his own abode. This will help generate fund to support this magnificent cat. Bhunte is hopeful to meet Bhote. Though he is not aware, that Bhunte cannot climb snowclad high mountains to meet Bhote. Support Bhunte and Bhote.
Bhunte was very tired today. He was playing all day long. Finally, when his mom rested, he sat next to her. She too was tired as they walked a lot to find the water holes. When she was about to doze off, Bhunte was counting ants under the star-lit sky. “Mom, look at this there are so many ants marching! One, two, three, four,…” he roared. ‘Bhunte, let me sleep!’ she replied. Later she heard “grrr…grrr”, he started to snore. Mom looked down on him, he was already asleep on that squat position and was snoring. She felt glad to see her little Bhunte sleeping.
Bhunte met the twin elephants- Ram Gaj and Lakshman Gaj of Chitwan National Park when he went with his herd to Nepal through the North West Bengal forest. Rama and Lakshman rolled their trunks on Bhunte’s hair. They were excited to meet their tiny brother, Bhunte. Bhunte too was happy to meet them and paid his regards to them and Devi Kali aunt. Rama and Lakshman were born on the 6th of November, 2008. “Bhunte bhai, you must be happy to see us? Hami ta juduwa! (we are twins) and twins in elephants are rare to see as in many cases in the wild, we succumb to death or we may not be able to be identified as the twins as we will be in groups. But here in Chitwan, people saw our birth. There are a few more twin calves in Sri Lanka.” Both of them trumpeted. Bhunte was glad to know about the rarity of twins in elephants. He shook his head and trunk. A tiny frog, Bhyagutte, croaked and jumped. “Ani dajju, tapai haru ta Nepali paisa ma aaune re ho? ( So, you both will be featured in Nepali currency?)”-Bhunte expressed his joy. “Ho bhai, hami dui nai hunchau, hajar rupiya ma” (yes brother, both of us will be there in Nepali Rupaiya One thousand currency)-both of them trumpeted. Bhunte did not know what the currency will help them in? But, he was happy for Ram and Lakshman dajju as they are the cutest brothers, he ever came across with. He quickly bid them bye and disappeared in the forest of Chitwan, while Ram and Lakshman got back into their play, tossing their trunks against each other…while Bhyagutte jumped back to the twig and croaked again…
You remember Kale? The baby rhino, Bhunte met on 2nd April, 2017? If you do not, then read this. Today again, Bhunte met Kale and in a very hilarious place. He was behind the piles of dungs and sniffing them. “Oye Kale, how have you been?” Bhunte trumpeted. “Oh Goodness gracious! Bhunte? I am so happy to see you.” Kale bleated and came running towards Bhunte. “By the way, what are those heaps?” Bhunte sniffed. “You know Bhunte, we defecate in the same place. It’s a kind of community-based latrine, if I can say that, humans call them the ‘dung midden’ and also territory marking areas for us. My uncles who are dominant, tends to defecate at the center and while we defecate at the periphery of these hills. And even our aunts and uncles use this as a source of the information, to know who is how old? What is their gender? Who is sexually matured? Who is ready for mating? Who is pregnant and all. This is their ‘twitter’ where they ‘post’ about their reproductive and physiological states” Kale laughed and explained Bhunte. Bhunte was surprised about this “Gobar ko thupro” (in Nepali language, it means piles of dung). And he was also astonished by the fact that Kale knows many things and he behaves like a learned geek (While I run around my forest, following some butterflies and skidding in the mud). Bhunte felt whether he should have become like Kale. But, “who cares!” Bhunte rumbled. “Excuse me?” Kale humbly bleated. “Nothing, Kale, I was just trying to contact my mom, and you know what, we defecate wherever we want” Bhunte took pride and trumpeted. And he defecated right in front of Kale. “Gross!” Kale bleated and went off. “By the way, there is a funny story. One of our uncles, Mailo baaje, went off the forest, many of the forest workers started looking for him. He was not to be found a whole day. They thought that Mailo baaje was killed by poachers. Next day morning, he was there in our dung midden, happily defecating. Wherever we go, we come back to defecate at one place. It keeps our forest more cleaner! Huh, unlike you!” Kale turned around and walked away arrogantly. Bhunte, for the first time, felt challenged. Could be his rising testosterone? He kept wondering…
Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel (SSP)
To know more about such behaviours in Rhino, read this.
Bhunte was completely devastated when he heard about the death of one of his closest aunts. What scared him more was the way they (humans) killed her. Bhavini, Bhunte’s aunt, was roaming in the village of a place called Kerala, South India. She found a fruit on her way and ate it. Bhavini did not realize that in the name of a treat for herself there would be death hidden underneath. The crackers-laden fruit exploded to hurt her more. Like all of his relatives, she too took the solace in the cold water to prevent the pain and to heal the wound. But, like most of his relatives, Bhavini aunt too lost her life. Later when people operated (autopsy) her after her death, they found that she was pregnant!
This devastated Bhunte the most! Bhunte would have name her Chhaya, after all he too is expecting to be a brother soon. This news reminded him of his mom who is pregnant.
And also of the dreadful stories from some of the places in Sri Lanka…where elephants are deliberately given the crackers hidden in vegetables (Hakka Pattas).
Bhunte shall miss Bhavini! And prays that no one should die the death she went through…
Bhunte was walking towards a big mulberry tree. When he noticed a beautiful friend- Chameri- a fruit bat. Bhunte met her long ago, she was in a huge gang of her friends. Today she was all by herself. She was covered in the pollens and was munching a fruit. Seeing Bhunte coming towards her, out of the fear, she pooped. Bhunte laughed and trumpeted a bit. Bhunte noticed Chameri was not happy. She was a little sad. Bhunte- “Hi, what happened?”. Chameri sighed and lamented that she lost some of her friends as people started killing her families and relatives thinking that they are spreading some diseases.
Chameri explained“You know Bhunte, there are many humans dying outside the forest, and we are not the cause for it. Yes, we do have some viruses in us. But, these are not the one that killed humans. We did not spread it. And now, they think that even our poops will kill them. Out of these rumours, they have started massacring many of us. I lost many of my friends. Do they realize how vital we are for them in killing harmful insects, in carrying seeds and in even helping the plants to grow? I feel sad, for their ignorance and we have been killed…I lost my best friend, Aakaase. I am here munching on my own to survive. Hope they understand that we have nothing to do to kill them!”
Ekadanta, one of the very handsome males, got his name for his single tusk. He is very renowned among the females, including Bhunte’s aunts and sisters. He recently left his herd when he was 15 years and often stays alone, wandering around the forest and even around the periphery of his forest. He seldom contacts other herd members. It was a year ago, he fell in love with Gajgamini. He is soon going to be a father. Bhunte, on his way to the waterhole with his moms and a cousin Bachu, saw Ekadanta uncle. Ekadanta drank the water and left the waterhole. He seemed less bothered about the herd. He maintained the distance and walked away. Bhunte knows his uncle is going to stay on his own*, occasionally interacting with other males and maybe with a female.
*Even elephants maintain the social distancing. Particularly, male elephants remain solitary most of their lives (occasionally they patch up with males and are seen with herds during breeding periods)**. During this Covid situation, Bhunte urges you to maintain the distance (minimal interactions and proper cautions). Bhunte says: “You need not stay all by yourself like Ekadanta uncle, but maintain and minimize the spread of the viruses. Stay safe and healthy.”
**Male elephants stay solitary throughout their lives, once they attain sexual maturity and disperse from their native herds to avoid inbreeding. They are occasionally seen with some males and associate with herds during the period of breeding, other than that- they distance themselves from others. Well, it’s time to learn some good lessons from elephants 😉