Posts from the ‘Wild Animals’ Category
Chitwan National Park
In the lowlands of Nepal, there is a jungle which one may have a rare chance to see a tiger or even a leopard. I did not see either while I was in Chitwan National Park even though both had been spotted during my stay. I was okay with this since I was in another national park that did not allow the rangers or guides to carry guns. Somehow the long stick my guide carried by his side was not too reassuring.
The entire time I was walking in the jungle I found myself trying to do two things. The first was to not step on any leaves that would alert an animal to my presence. The second was continually searching for trees I thought could climb if we did encounter an unfriendly animal.
To intensify matters even more, the leopard was not really seen, as much attacked, a man in the village across the field from my hotel. So, I was really okay, almost relieved to have walked through the jungle and back unscathed. I had seen the tiger in India and the leopard in Africa so these two animals were not a “must see” on my agenda.
I did get to watch the black rhino everyday I was in Chitwan. I was surprised how visually different the black rhino was from white rhino I saw in Zambia last fall. The rhino skin looked as it was a hard shell, whereas in Zambia the rhino simply looked like it had really thick grey skin. “The arrow can not pierce the skin of a rhino.” My guide informed me. “If we see one, we have one thing we need to do.” “What’s that?” I questioned. “Run.”
After trying to smile it off he said he was actually serious but we needed to run in a “zig zag”, changing directions every twenty to thirty meters. “They have poor eyesight and if we are quiet as we run then they will have trouble following us when we change directions. Another advantage of changing directions is that the rhino has a difficult time turning their large frames to follow. As we run, you should throw clothing down to cause additional confusion to the direction we are heading.” I remember that this is the same advice I was given for the white rhino in Zambia so both must have some universal traits.
Most people buy a “package deal” of activities in Chitwan so the hotels keep you busy the entire time you are here. Jungle walk, canoe trip, elephant ride, watching the elephant bath, cultural show, elephant breeding center visit. It does not matter the star level of the hotel. Everybody is doing the same activities and I found that I ran into the same people over and over. My favorite activities was the canoe trip and two activities not on the “usual” menu.
The canoe is actually a dugout canoe from a single tree and they pack the groups into each boat. “Are you sure there is room for us?” I asked my guide. “Sure, they fit twelve people.” “Twelve people of what size?” My guide, Prabin, did not respond as I careful boarded the tippy canoe with the water inching up towards the sides.
We saw lots of birds from the river, my favorite was the blue, brown and white Kingfisher. The bright blue was so beautiful when they spread their wings to fly. There were also several crocodiles hiding between the lilies and in the mud on the banks of the river.
Since my guide knew that I had spent time learning to be a mahout in Laos, he arranged for me take their elephant to the river for it’s daily bath. I felt pretty lucky to do this since I was the only tourist around which had been able to have this experience. Prabin translated for me as this elephant/mahout pair spoke Hindi. I was glad that this mahout was a gentle teacher as in my first experience in Laos. Other mahouts watched and smiled as I worked with our elephant.
One night the resort arranged for me to stay in one of the few “tower” accommodations in the jungle. I loved this because our second floor cabin was in the middle of a grassy field which at dusk many animals found their way to feed. It was also a safe place to watch the wildlife so I found myself enjoying this better than the jungle walks.
We watched a mother and baby rhino for a long time make their way through the field. We saw wild boar, peacocks but my favorite were the spotted deer. There were over forty grazing away in the afternoon light. After dark I was able to have an unexpected treat….Fireflies!
“Is that a firefly?” I question looking at the small bright light floating in the tree next to me. “Yes. It is a firefly.” “Wow! I have never seen one before.” Prabin went below to catch one so I could look at it close up. It looked like a regular insect on top. The florescent light came from underneath. It quickly flew away when we opened our hands wide.
I found the national park in the lowlands of Nepal a wonder place full of surprises and caring people wishing to show you her treasures.
Learning To Be A Mahout – The Rest of the Story
Our first glimpse of the elephants saw them all hard at work. Several were already carrying tourists on bench saddles belted to their back like a horse. Others were munching on green leaves set in front of them. They too were ready to be ridden with a saddle already attached. One at a time the mahout (elephant trainer) commanded their elephant to walk to the platform where eager foreigners waited for a ride. “Okay.” I heard someone say to the next tourist in line as he tilted his head toward the elephant as if to said ‘it was his turn’ to get on.
Each tourist carefully grabbed the side of the bench and placed each foot near the front shoulder of the elephant before sitting down. I could see a look of gratefulness across each face as they realized they had “made it” without falling between the fifteen foot platform and the elephant beside it.
A large tour bus parks nearby and at least twenty people are lead to the stairway going up to the small platform.
“Okay, we need to split you into groups.” My attention is redirected back to our guide. “Everyone who signed up for the ride and the river kayak stand over there.” This is the point we realized that most of the new faces we met on the shared minivan ride would not be with us the rest of the day. Only four of us had signed up to learn how to be a mahout for a day. A teacher and baker from Ireland, an engineer from Germany and myself.
We were lead away from the elephants to change into our official mahout uniforms and to learn about asian elephants. This included learning the commands we would need when working with the elephants later in the day.
Every elephant has one mahout which always works with the same elephant. It is clear to see that the pair have a very close bond. Elephants have terrific memories and I would come to learn that each has a very different personality.
I was very lucky with my first elephant/mahout pairing. “Don’t worry. She is very gentle.” The main tour guide said to me as I reached to get on the bench on top of my elephant. I would find that her mahout was likewise very a gentle soul.
I was glad that this seat had a bar that fitted across the front of the bench. When I had ridden an elephant in Thailand, years earlier, I remember holding on to the back of a similar bench with both arms when going down a steep hill. I felt steady with the wooden bar in front of me. “This is much better. I am not going to slide off this bench with this bar to push back on.” I thought to myself.
Within a few minutes of leaving the platform my mahout, Sing, pointed at the bar. “You want bar?” He seemed to nod, “Okay, here you go.” I handed the bar to Sing as he motioned for me to scoot over. I moved to the left on the bench and he hopped up beside me. “Who is going to drive this thing?” I said looking over to him. Sing pointed for me to get on the elephant. I was realizing that the commands I had learned earlier that day were all the common words between us but we seemed to communicate just fine.
One foot after another I crawled on Tahoot. She was steady as walking on granite. I was immediately comfortable. Sing motioned for me to move my hands forward on the top of her head. It seemed more comfortable so I figured it was the proper position. I looked back to see Sing’s face and determine how I was doing. Sing had replaced the wooden bar across the bench and was curled up behind it, resting but keeping an eye on me. I figured I must have been doing okay for him to be so relaxed.
The elephants in front of us were not being as compliant. The other mahouts were having to assist and prod their elephants to move. Hubert’s elephant was being particularly difficult. Turning the wrong way, stopping to eat at whatever looked greenest and deciding to halt and not budge an inch at times.
I was able to use several commands to stop, move to right or left around the others and go at will. The others used “ya, ya” several times which means “no, no.” I was glad I never had to do that with Tahoot.
Next thing I knew, Sing was off the bench and assisting the other mahouts. He walked beside Hubert’s elephant.
Tahoot and I were the last to reach the top of a steep downward incline. “Emma, do I need to do anything differently?” Emma, the teacher from Ireland had just went down the hill. “Your elephant will do everything. Just squeeze you legs together and lock you elbows.”
Emma watched from her elephant. Upon making it down the hill she said. “Good job.” She looked over to my mahout busy with Hubert’s elephant and added, “I guess they don’t think you need any help.”
From that point on Tahoot and I were bonded and I completely trusted her. I could see that Sing looked back every one in a while and it was clear I had his nod of approval.
In the late afternoon they assigned us to a different elephant team. I was not excited to leave Tahoot but I guess they wanted us to have different experiences. I am glad I was assigned to Tahoot and Sing first as I was able to build my confidence with such a calm elephant and encouraging trainer.
My second pairing was not as delightful. Both the elephant and mahout had a cantankerous streak. For example, I wanted the elephant to stop, to leave a “‘little personal space” (2-3 feet) between us and the next elephant and my mahout would command him to go budging right up to the other elephant. I would tell the elephant to go left down the stream and the elephant choose to go right up the embank on a narrow pathway. “Okay, not the way I wanted but that works too.” I told the elephant who was not paying much attention to me.
When we reached the river for his afternoon bath I found that the elephant and the mahout were paying attention. I am now positive that they conspired together to have some fun at my expense.
I gave the command to spray and my elephant completely dunked giving me a bath. I looked behind me and my mahout was standing up and balancing on the only part of the elephant not in the water. I thought, “He had to know that the elephant was going to do that to know stand on the back of the elephant before he went under the water.” Next, my mahout had the elephant walk right behind another elephant going to the bathroom and commanded her to dunk again. The elephant, which had a habit of doing what he pleased, was quick to comply. All I could do was cover my mouth and hold on. Now I knew that they were on the same wavelength….And possessed same personalities.
I seemed to pass some initiation because after that my second mahout and elephant seemed to try harder to get along. (Though I must admit I made sure my mahout did not continue to stay dry after I was dunked the second time. Maybe he just decided to back off and get along.) At any rate, the new elephant and I finally bonded and I realized that elephants, like humans, have strong nonverbal skills, unique personalities and can have a stubborn streak….But in the end, given enough time, it is hard not to become attached even to the most difficult.
Dragons, Mantas and Sting Rays! Oh My!
The journey to Flores Island is a rough one, when sailing is impossible due to the tempestuous seas in January and February. During this time, you must either fly, by first backtracking to Bali, or take the bus and ferry route. I chose the adventure. Thirty-one and a half hours later, I arrived on Flores Island, the gateway to the Komodo Dragons.
Once on Flores it is easy to schedule a trip or you can even go out to the docks and barter a price with a boat caption. Most trips include tracks for the dragon on both Rinca and Komodo Island and break up the trips by stopping to snorkel several reefs along the way. This time of year most people opt to sleep on the deck of the boat at night as it is cooler than the cabins.
I loved sleeping on the deck. After the caption turned off the boat generator, it looked like the stars would go on forever. Away from the modern world they peer out to play and dance in the black night. So many stars that constellations were difficult to recognize since there were so many additional specs shining in places that I have not observed before in the sky. This is the way the night was meant to be seen….In all it’s glory.
On Rinca and Komodo I stayed within a few feet of my guide during the entire hike. We were all aware that two park rangers were bit by a Komodo Dragon last week. The had just returned to the park from the hospital in Bali. I was not planning to make an early trip back to Bali and was overly cautious.
“Excuse me? That dragon is coming up pretty fast behind us. Can I walk in front of you.” I said to a ranger, knowing that dragons can run up to the speed of a horse. “Yes, don’t worry.” “Are you not afraid of them?” I asked. “Yes, I am. I think that is the reason I have never been hurt. I respect the dragon.” It sounded good to me but I wonder if those other two rangers had felt the same way before their near fatal experience.
The dragons had big claws and saliva which dripped down from their mouth. I assume that saliva contains the same bacteria that slowly kills the victim. Once dead, the dragons, which follow there prey, sometimes for days, chomp into there prize with there heavy duty teeth. I notice that the dragons walk with a purpose….Never backtracking. I wonder what is on their mind and I hope it isn’t me.
“Evon… Come look at this deer.” I walk over toward my friend and startled the deer in the process. The deer turned and just then out pops a dragon at his feet. The deer hops his front feet in the air and pushes off with its hind legs over the reach of the dragon. I think to myself, “See that dragon was hunting.” As is was the same dragon that had been walking behind us just twenty minutes earlier.
There were so many small islands and secluded beaches on the way. The rainforest was a brilliant green with all types of foliage and brown vines hanging from banyan trees. I loved sitting on the boat as it chugged onward. The water was so clear that we could see fish swimming in the shallower waters.
“Look, there’s a turtle.” Sure enough, a turtle swimming towards the side of our boat. Also the way to Komodo we saw a large pod of dolphins jumping out of the water in a parade like fashion, one behind another, a short distance from the boat. Later, when I was sitting on the bow of the boat, two dolphins jumped up twice just a couple meters away from me. We all clapped like school children at the sight of them.
My favorite part of the trip was the snorkeling. The advice I was given was correct…..I would now agree that this is some of the best snorkeling in the world. In addition to the fish I saw in the Gills, there was even more bountiful and diverse aquatic life here. The coral was more pronounced with bolder shapes and colors. Maroon, green, blue, purple, yellow…Some enormous and sturdy brain coral covered the sea floor and other coral fanned out providing a perfect place for little fish to dart in and out.
At one point I was swimming along and directly beneath me a sting ray raced from under his coral hiding place out to sea. It only took a few split seconds for him to disappear again.
When we reached manta point is was clear how it was named. Huge manta rays moving on the bottom of the sea floor with just a soft fan of its wings. “Are you ready to snorkel?” “Is it safe?” I reply. “Sure….Just watch out for the jelly fish. If you get caught in the current that is okay. We will come around and get you.” The three travelers on our boat decided to go even though the guide was going to watch us from the boat.
The mantas were so large and graceful. I loved watching them. “Come over here.” My guide yells out from the boat. “There are too big ones here.” I decided to swim out to where the boat had just been circling. After about ten meters, I can feel the current pushing back towards me. It is amazing how fast the current changes here.
I arrive directly above a huge manta ray and I have to continue to take long powerful strokes to stay above the manta who is motionless on the sea floor. It feels like I am in one of those new Hydropools I have seen on television and think they actually might work if they can duplicate this experience.
“It’s so graceful!” I yell back to my guide. I look down again in the water. Another slick black manta ray joins the large manta I had been watching. Then with a graceful partial flap of their wings they leave me behind.
I swim back to my friends looking for jelly fish as I swim. I adjust my stoke and turn slightly to let each float by me. We continue to observe the mantas until we spot five jelly fish in a lump and decided it was time to get in the boat. Swimming with the mantas was definitely the highlight my trip.
Yes, even in January and February, the trip is worth the effort to get here and should not be missed when in this part to the world. However….I will add that I am flying back to Bali.
-Please note the under water manta ray photos were captured by Eric Van De Put, Holland. Who had been diving on manta point the following day. Thanks Eric!
-Also note that the blue fish by the manta rays are just larger than my pinky finger.