News Release

WITH QUEENS AND KINGS IN REMOTE ASSAM

On the border of Bhutan and Assam there lies over 500 square kilometres of dense jungle and sprawling plains, covered in five metre high emerald green elephant grass.

The Manas Park is the haunt of herds of wild elephant, buffalo, massive Indian rhino and the Royal Bengal tiger.  Rare animals such as the pigmy hog, the hispid hare and the golden langur monkey have been discovered here and it is an ornithologist’s paradise with a wide variety of birds including the famous Bengal florican. 

Due to past political upheavals, the wildlife has suffered from poaching, illegal logging and human encroachment.  However, following a ceasefire former insurgents, poachers and young people have formed a new force with the forest department to protect this special place.

Known as the Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society (MMES), this unique community based organisation is the first such body to be established in India to promote conservation and ecotourism.  These are truly poachers becoming gamekeepers.

Eager to preserve Manas, the governing Bodoland Territorial Council has asked explorer, Colonel John Blashford-Snell (JBS), President of the Scientific Exploration Society, to assist with wildlife studies and aid to the local people.

Thus JBS has set up a 20 strong expedition of conservationists, engineers, scientists, medical experts and community aid workers to visit Manas in March-April 2015.

To plan this JBS did a recce with a small team in December.  On arrival they were advised by the legendary conservationist, Parbati Barua, the “Queen of the Elephants” described by the late, Mark Shand.

Mounted on domestic elephants the team sighted a wide variety of animals.  JBS’s elephant, Birsa Tati, had a one year old baby who could not be left and accompanied them on their safari.  “Naughty” as the youngster became known, was a great source of amusement and had no trouble in following her mother, even in the densest forest.  She found the great, heavily armoured Indian rhino especially interesting but had to be restrained from running to greet wild elephants.  As JBS supplied her with bananas, she rarely left him alone!

An unforgettable moment occurred when the team met a 15 foot King Cobra.  This gigantic serpent, the largest poisonous snake in the world, can grow to 18 feet and carries sufficient venom to kill an elephant.

Examining video of the encounter, leading herpetologist, Mark O’Shea commented.  “The team was very fortunate to see such a snake.  I’m  glad they treated it with respect and did not try to kill it, as many would have done”.

Watching this incredible reptile for some 20 minutes, the team was relieved as it slid away at high speed.

Now preparations are in hand to aid the people of Bodoland and help preserve this wonderful wilderness.

For further details click here or please contact Anne Gilby Expedition Base, Motcombe.  Nr. Shaftesbury. Dorset. SP7 9PB

-0-

Here are two recent articles about JBS's travels to Costa Rica and the place where he grew up, Jersey.

Recce to Costa Rica 

Last year I was contacted by an ex Op Raleigh venturer named Lana Wedmore, who has established an amazing eco lodge in the remote jungle covered hills of Costa Rica’s Osa peninsula.  Lana, who hails from Colorado, was aboard the Raleigh brigantine Zebu when it arrived in Australia in 1986 and later set off to work her way around the world.  Benefitting from her experience in the travel industry and with a huge amount of determination and enthusiasm Lana decided to set up an Edenic eco-lodge deep in the rain forest.  Thus 15 years ago the amazing Luna Lodge was built to harmonize with nature.   Largely constructed from sustainable material it is powered by its own hydro-electricity and solar power.  The lodge’s gardens produce a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and herbs; all used to produce scrumptious meals. 

Lana aims to preserve the Corcovado park and the fauna and flora of the biologically rich forests of the Osa Peninsula, that I first saw when I came here on Op Drake in 1979.  Then we were erecting a memorial commemorating the arrival of Sir Francis Drake and the Golden Hinde seeking treasure 400 years before. 

Today this remarkable lady claims that her time on our Society’s Operation Raleigh inspired her to follow a dream and create her own treasure at Luna Lodge.  I asked her what had driven her on to fulfill such a dream, even after being severely injured in a terrible road accident.  Gazing out onto the tangle of emerald, olive and jade green jungle alive with birds and monkeys surrounding her unique home, she said: 

“Everyone tells me that I need to write a book.  I feel it and I know that it would be another journey in my life that I think that I would like to travel on.  Some people tell me that I need to do it because I have accomplished a Dream and so many people have dreams but, it is so hard for them to achieve them because of spouses or parents or siblings or even themselves. 

I have had a wonderful life and there are so many serendipity things that have happened in my life, or the opportunities have knocked on my door and I have walked thru with a smile on my face and an urge to work thru it.  I am starting and I am going to do this.  Another challenge that I am undertaking.  It never stops with me.  I continue to put goals out in front of me.  It is part of my nature and the best thing about it is accomplishing them.”

Lana often quotes Goethe “Whatever you can do or dream you can begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

I reckon she is one of the finest examples of a person that Op Raleigh has encouraged to bring a dream to life.  For more information visit www.lunalodge.com.






Clockwise:  Ex Raleigh Venturer Lana Wedmore in her garden, A botanists’ paradise, Lana, JBS and Yoli and JBS in the forest

-0-

In Grandpa’s Footsteps

Without doubt the best way to approach Jersey is by sea on a sunny, summer’s day.  Then one is greeted by the candle-like Corbiere lighthouse standing sentry on its rocky outcrop, beyond which lie granite cliffs purpled with heather and the grey bunkers left by the German occupiers.  Beyond that stretch the sands and Martello Towers built to keep the French at bay.  I called my grandsons on deck.  “To me this is the real symbol of home.” I explained to Jack (14) and Daniel (11) who had come to see where my taste for adventure was fostered.

For our visit we stayed in a squat 19th century tower at St. Ouen’s Bay where once a trio of heavy cannon guarded this open beach.  Indeed it was here that the Parliamentary forces came ashore to sieze the Island from Royalists in 1651.  Now Jersey Heritage has comfortably refurbished the Kempt Tower to provide holiday accommodation.

As a teenager at Victoria College I spent my free time exploring the Island’s castles, combed the German tunnels for military souvenirs, climbed cliffs, boated and fished underwater.  There were many scary moments as we squirmed through darkened tunnels and spearedpowerful conger eels that could bend one’s steel harpoon u-shaped.  There was also an exciting moment in the open air swimming pool at Havre des Pas when a six foot shark swam in with the tide.   In St. Brelade’s Bay I had tested a German U boat escape apparatus with near fatal results!

Little did I realize then that in 1962 I would return as a Royal Engineer Lieutenant to survey the German tunnels after the tragic death of two boys overcome by gas, rumoured to be cyanide, stored for the execution of prisoners.  Fortunately the vapours turned out to be carbon monoxide from a fire lit inside the shaft, but working underground we encountered a strange smell and fearing poison gas, got out fast.  However, we discovered the source was rusting barrels of carbide used to produce inflammable gas for lamps.  Luckily we did not light a match in there!

Today the ChannelIslands Occupation Society are preserving and refurbishing many of the German defences and my grandsons enjoyed touring bunkers andthe fascinating Jersey War tunnels which hold an excellent exhibition telling the compelling story of the occupation.

At the Maritime Museum we saw marvellous interactive displays and a monumentaltapestry depicting life under the swastika.

No visit to Jersey is complete without a tour of the massive medieval Mont Orgueil castle and a few hours at the Durrell Wildlife Park.  Having just returned from seeking the elusive spectacled bear in Peru, I was delighted to see two living happily here, whilst the boys adored the gorillas and the orang-utans .

We also watched  the annual Battle of Flowers;  and its parade of floats imaginatively festooned with flowers.  What a carnival!

Jersey is a young person’s paradise with activities to keep even the most energetic occupied and also hold the interest of their elders. Speeding  back to Weymouth, Jack  asked, “When can we come back, Grandpa?"





Jack Matthews, Judith B-S, Lee Durrell, Dan Matthews, Victoria Matthews (JBS’s daughter and mother of Jack and Daniel) by the statue of Gerald Durrell at his wildlife park

JBS and Grandsons at the Kempt Tower

Gorilla and baby at Durrell’s wildlife park


THE  RECCE  TO  THE  SIERRA  NEVADA,  COLOMBIA

INTERIM  REPORT

John Blashford-Snell (JBS) and a recce team have just returned from a fascinating visit to the Tairona people in the remote Sierra Nevada mountains.  The people believe that the white men or “younger brothers” are destroying the world. 


JBS and the Wiwa villagers with the Jersey Flag

The recce started at Valledupar on the South side of the mountains and accompanied by a Kankuamo indian, SES representative in Latin America, Yolima Cipagauta and JBS met the Tairona governor of the region and several officials.  They then conferred with various Mamos (Tribal Elders) before going up to several Wiwa villages and later visiting Kankuamo and Kogis settlements. 

As advised by SES Member HSH Grand Duke Leopold d’Arenberg, who visited the area last year, they made it plain that they had come to learn and the Mamos responded well.  Their main requirement was to build a new training school, where they could preserve the traditions and culture and educate the younger people.  The Tairona suffer from various health problems including Chagas disease and they would also appreciate medical and dental aid as well as school books and advice on agriculture.  The Kogis village of San Jose had a high rate of infant mortality due to a lack of protein which might be overcome with the appropriate crops, poultry and livestock.  They are also keen to set up a fish farming project. 

The Mamos asked the team to support them by spreading their beliefs on conservation to the wider world and JBS has started on this. 

The recent UN announcement on climate change will have encouraged the Tairona.

It is felt there is much that can be done to help and we hope this initial visit will open the way for a future expedition.