Save The Elephant

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An elephant we saw on way through Masanigudi and Bandipur Reserve Forests, South India

I have yet to meet someone who says that they hate elephants. I love them – they represent all the best in humans – love, affection, a sense of community. Besides they do so much for our forests. Watch Elephant Grows The Forest here:

Sadly, we have forgotten just how precious these creatures are. It is estimated that there are  about 450-750k African elephants and only about 35-40k Asian elephants in the world today. Poaching, climatic change and habitat loss are causes the elephant population to reduce drastically.

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A baby elephant in Masanigudi/Bandipur Reserve Forests, South India

China with its endless appetite for ivory is driving poaching across Africa and Asia.

Highly emotional and completely guileless, elephants mourn their dead—and across Africa, they are grieving daily as demand from China’s “suddenly wealthy” has driven the price of ivory to $700 a pound or more. With tens of thousands of elephants being slaughtered each year for their tusks, raising the specter of an “extinction vortex,” Alex Shoumatoff…read more here.

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The same elephant in picture 1

Apart from torturing and killing elephants for their ivory, there are several cruel practices used to train elephants to perform as tourist attractions.  One example is the phajaan – a violent, ritualized separation and breaking ceremony, used in Thailand.  View this National Geographic presentation for more information.  Remember those ‘cute’ elephants painting? The fact is that elephants don’t paint.  Someone came up with the idea to ‘train’ them to do so. I don’t want to begin to imagine what they went through to learn painting.

Closer home, there have been reports from South India of ‘elephant taunting’ – a bizarre and incredibly dangerous activity in which onlookers harass elephants to the point of retaliation.

Let’s not even start with the cruelty to circus elephants… 🙁

The cruelty seems unending.

Thankfully, there are several individuals and organizations who are working to conserve and protect elephants. I invite you to read these articles/pages today or bookmark them to read later:
What can tourism do about wildlife poaching – silence is not an option.

Elephant Partners on Facebook

Elephant Voices on Facebook

Each of us too can make decisions and take steps to make a difference. Here are some ideas:

  • Sign The Elephant Charter today. Go here to do this.
  • Avoid buying anything made from ivory.
  • Don’t patronize shows that are geared to tourists, including elephant safaris. Visit elephant sanctuaries instead.
  • Make your next travel experience one in which you spend time as a volunteer for a wildlife project.
  • Increase awareness by writing and sharing about cruel practices and how we can help in wildlife conservation.
  • Find a baby elephant adoption program – read more here.

Save the elephant!

PS: I would like to acknowledge that I was inspired by this particular post from Holes in My Sole written by Jim McIntosh. Jim does a lot to spread awareness.

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Today we’re on S of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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Flaming Forests

We’ve talked about our trip to Thekkady and Gavi, in Kerala, South India,  before. I was just going through the pictures that my brother, John Campos,  had taken on that trip. I saw a common thread that went unnoticed earlier. I’m not sure whether it was just a coincidence,  but it seemed that most of the flowers that were abloom in the forest during our visit were a shade of red. The forests were truly aflame with beauty!

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I hope we succeeded in brightening up your day!

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Today we’re on F of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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Gavi – An Escape To Wilderness

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During the Dassera holidays, we traveled to Kumily, a market town in Idduki district of Kerala and the main staging point to visit Periyar lake and the Thekaddy forest reserve. Whilst the boat ride on the Periyar lake is a must-do on the itinerary of most tourists, it can safely be skipped without much ado.

Instead, if one is really interested in eco tourism, the Kerala Forest Development Corp. Ltd.(KFDC) has put together a number of packages. One of these packages is a day trip to Gavi Reserve Forest. Developed into an exclusive eco-tourism project, Gavi is listed as one of the must-see places in India. Active involvement of tribals makes Gavi one of its kind on this count.

We have to thank, Kumaran, the Activities Manager at Club Mahindra’s Tusker Trails, for the jeep and the entry passes to the Gavi forest reserve. And yes, getting the entry pass is important, since only a limited number of tourists are allowed into Gavi each day. The reason for this restriction is that the Gavi forest is Nature in its pristine form. In an attempt to preserve this, the Kerala Government has imposed the quota and every tourist has to be accounted for.

Around 5 am, we were picked up by our driver, Benny, who has been doing the Gavi run for around ten years.The years of driving the same route has endowed Benny with an uncanny ability to sight wildlife whilst at the same time maneuvering a 4WD jeep through the forest!
Thekkady 090A 40+ kilometre drive from Kumily, you turn off the Kumily-Kottayam highway at Vandiperiyar. From there the road is blanketed by tea plantations and the last 20 kms of the drive to the base camp is through the jungle.

We reached Gavi around 7.30 in the morning and after completing the registration process got down stuffing ourselves. The food was wholesome and unlimited. Eggs, toast, poha, idlis, sambar, puris and chole and fruit was on offer. I didn’t notice any one complaining and everyone seemed to be doing justice to the food.

After breakfast we were assigned guides, jeep-wise, and given leggings to keep the leeches from getting under our trousers. As part of the eco-tourism project, these guides are the locals mentioned earlier. Born and brought up in the forests around and they use their knowledge of the area to guide tourists. Providing them with a livelihood, reduces the temptation to poach. Now, they are, in fact, the protectors of Gavi.

We were offered treks of one, two and three hour duration. We opted for the one hour trek, during which we got a panoramic view of the Gavi forest including the Sabarimala or ‘Poonkavanam (forests) of Lord Ayyappa‘. The pics below are only some of the spectacular scenes we saw.

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We returned to the base area, where we rested after the strenuous hike and waited for those who had opted for the longer treks. During this time, some of the tourists who had not opted for the hike were taken for a boat ride on the lake.
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We got our turn in the boat after lunch and again were overwhelmed with the scenery and the wildlife.Our guide rowed a boatload of six so effortlessly that Corinne remarked that it seemed he was knitting wool.

 

 

 

 

The high point was the waterfall in a cove. You get off the boat and and go and gaze and one of natures wonders. Thekkady 159

Around 3.00 pm the day trip was declared over, though as per the itinerary we were supposed to visit a cardamom plantation and have tea. But given the strenuous activities of the day, I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the program being truncated. And no demands for refunds! 🙂

On the return drive too, Benny kept stopping the jeep to point out wildlife. We too got into the spirit of things and pointed to what looked like an elephant in the distance. But Benny, with one cursory glance, declared that it was a cow, which was established when we checked with the binoculars!

During the trip we sighted deer, elephants, Nilgiri langurs Malabar squirrels and various birds, including kingfishers. And of course, the cows. 😉

Tips:

  • Wear trousers, else you will have leeches attaching themselves to your legs.
  • Rugged footwear is a must, if you are planning to trek. If you are not planning to trek, sit at home at look at pictures of Gavi on the internet! 😉
  • Binoculars are essential, preferably a pair for each person.
  • Carry a camera but don’t only focus on taking pictures. You may miss the larger picture, quite literally!
  • Thankfully mobile phones do not work in Gavi – there is no signal. So social media addicts beware! 😉
  • Be polite to the guides; they know were the wildlife is located, sometimes right under your nose or over your head!

Useful Link:

Gavi EcoTourism

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I would recommend an overnight stay at Gavi rather than the day trip we took. The next time, we go there we’re going to stay in one of these Swiss cottages, on the banks of the lake, for a night or two.

Let me know if you get there before we go back again!

 

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Birding At Talawe

Painted Stork At Talawe, Navi Mumbai

The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), which has been in existence for over a hundred years, regularly organizes outing for its members as also non members. After many false starts, we finally signed up for a half day program of Birding at Talawe, which is a patch of wetland located on the Palm Beach road in Navi Mumbai.

We were picked up at Diamond Garden, Chembur at seven in the morning and reached the destination at around eight. We were a group of fifteen in the bus and were joined by another ten enthusiasts, who had come to Talawe on their own. In hindsight, is the best option, if you have your own transport, as I will explain later.

Led by Julius Rego and Asif Khan, who were the BNHS resource persons, we started the trek into the wetlands, with the salt pans on one side of the path and mangrove on the other. Within minutes of entering he wetlands, Julius and Asif started pointing out various species of birds.

Thankfully, the binoculars we had carried, which is a must even to attempt birding, made a huge difference. For those without binoculars, the BNHS had thoughtfully set up a powerful view-scope.

As this was our first attempt at bird watching or birding, as it is called, we were just astonished at the number of birds that had gathered in this small patch of wet land with the Seawood Estate on one side and construction activity in full swing on another side.

We spent over an hour in the wet lands, before it got quite warm and we made our way back to the bus, where we ate the breakfast we had carried. Since some of the veterans could not tear themselves from birding, we ended up twiddling our thumbs for almost an hour. And that’s were having your own transport makes sense. Around eleven o’clock we started back for Mumbai and reached Diamond Garden a little before noon.

Overall, we had a great time and are looking forward to other outings organized by the BNHS. Maybe, we will even make another visit to Talawe on our own some morning during the bird watching season that extends up to February/March every year.

Some tips for first timers to birding

  • Beg, borrow or… , but do take along a pair of binoculars. Preferably, one per head; sharing is not fun.
  • Carry adequate drinking water. You will need it has the sun rises.
  • Carry breakfast. Birding makes you hungry.
  • A floppy cap, like the ones umpires wear during a cricket match, is the best headgear.
  • Don’t get intimidated by the equipment some of the birders lug along, like cameras with huge zoom lens. Just try to ‘watch’ the birds and take in an many details, as you can.

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