BACK TO BARDIA 2012 - INTERIM REPORT
Just days after the 2012 expedition to study the giant elephants of West Nepal left the area, a disastrous fire swept into the Bardia reserve, destroying much of its vegetation and taking a heavy toll of the wildlife. The fire started by careless burning of grass at the end of the dry season would have done much more damage had it not been for the rapid action of the Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge staff and the Nepalese soldiers who guard the reserve. It is hoped that many of the large mammals managed to escape to the relative safety of the Babai and Karnali rivers.
John Blashford-Snell had organised the projects so that a junior expedition which included nine young people and their parents or godparents, could spend time scouting the area on elephant back to locate the wild elephants and begin the community aid programme . The first computer the local children had seen was presented to the Gola school together with gifts of books. Every youngster had a task and greatly enjoyed their time in the Jungle. They had splendid views of the wildlife and learned the importance of conservation. They were especially taken by a young Nilgai or Blue Bull that had been brought up as an orphan by the soldiers. Nicknamed “Bambi” this handsome and tame antelope lived in the expedition camp for a few days. When the soldiers went on anti-poaching patrols Bambi would accompany them and was quick to spot both tiger and poachers.
As the young people flew home to tell their friends of a truly memorable trip, JBS met the Senior Team who were to carry out the scientific study of the wild elephants. The new 20 strong group included a doctor, three dentists, two surveyors, a retired solicitor, a Bournemouth university lecturer, a leading wildlife artist, an amateur ornithologist, a biologist and scientific writer. Dr Tessa Donovan-Beermann had been on two previous expeditions with JBS in Bardia and Surveyor Duncan Sharp had accompanied him in Guyana in 2010. Sales Manager Graham Lydiatt had been on a very challenging Scientific Exploration Society expedition in Bolivia in 2001 and David Read, a retired carpenter of Chippenham, had been with JBS in Burma. Former RAF pilot Barry West of Blandford knew him from service in Oman. Dr Carolina Hanley had met JBS in Bolivia and everyone had been carefully selected to fill a role on the project.
Assembling in Kathmandu on 12th April the team followed the young peoples’ route to Bardia, saw the huge crocs at the Babai crossing and had a full briefing on the domestic elephants by Ram Din, the legendary chief guide who had been on most of the previous expeditions. Moving into the tented camp by the Karnali that night they experienced a fierce electric storm and gale force winds that almost brought the tents down. However at dawn they mounted six elephants and set off to sweep the area where the young people had first seen the wild herd. A tiger roared to greet them, but only gave them a quick glimpse as it disappeared beneath the undergrowth. A docile but enormous python was examined by David Dancey-Wood, the eminent wildlife artist from Bournemouth and reckoned to be sixteen feet long. A real whopper. Later he had a lucky escape when he almost trod on a King Cobra! Carolina Hanley spotted a fine rhino and her calf but it was late in the day when they had a most exciting find. A large tusker, 5 adult cow elephants and 3 young calves were seen bathing in the river. Standing still in the trees the team got their first clear sightings and used a laser device to calculate shoulder heights and later Sarah Lawton a scientific writer, collected dung samples for DNA testing. More elephants appeared towards dusk giving a total of 18 seen that day.
Each day the searching progressed, sometimes coming on wild elephant at waterholes, or meeting them by surprise in the forest. A total of 27 were listed in the Western area before the team moved to the Babai Valley where a further 20 including many calves were discovered. Thus bringing the total seen to 47, a record number. But one wonders if this 1000 square kilometre reserve can accommodate many more. However the team had to be careful when near the herds and several times matriarchs made mock charges to protect their young. Whilst fishing for Mahseer, retired solicitor Peter Fraser had a quick view of a couple of freshwater dolphin, confirming that although thought to be extinct in the Karnali, a few still exist. Mandy West’s elephant pushed over a bush and she found herself facing a massive rhino bull only 15 feet away. She got a remarkable photo, without need for a telephoto lens before the huge beasts moved apart.
Duncan Sharp and Norwegian Siv Siem were surveying a new map for the reserve when Dr. Tessa Donovan-Beerman spotted something on the trail to one side. Raising his 300mm lens, Duncan gasped. It was a full grown male tiger and he got some fine photos as the magnificent creature sat watching them, licking his lips!
The community aid programme got underway at Gola (Janak Nagar) school when the dentists Captain Sarah Armstrong, Royal Army Dental Corps, Angus Gordon and Carolina Hanley assisted by American first aider, Villa Piche ran a clinic which treated ninety patients. At the same time Dr John Etherton held a health consultancy and Duncan and Siv checked the new computer. John and Carolina also made notes on the traditional medicines used in the area, on which Ram Din is an expert.
Cathy Renfrey, a former PE instructor taught the children to use skipping ropes and more educational material was provided for the school. JBS listened to the village elders telling of their problems with the wildlife. Recently four houses had been destroyed by wild elephant seeking rice and a leopard had eaten several goats. The electric fence, erected to keep the elephants out had ceased to operate because its batteries had deteriorated. Members of the expedition then put up the funds to buy replacements. Later the team learned that whilst trying to defend his grain store a farmer had been killed by a wild tusker. This had left a widow and three children aged 5, 8 and 12 without any support. The expedition immediately started a fund to help pay for their education. Donations for this will now be received by SES and passed to the widow in Nepal for the children’s education.
At the request of the Wildlife Department a dental team was sent up a nearby mountain to run a clinic. Telpani village was known to house a number of poachers so it was hoped to win some sympathy from the people by helping them.
One of the most memorable activities on both expeditions was bathing the domestic elephants. Leaping into the warm water of the Karnali and scrubbing the gentle giants from side to side, diving from their broad backs as they showered themselves with trunk loads of river water whilst trumpeting with pleasure, was an event no one will forget.
On the final night the expedition gave a Burns Supper party for their Nepalese helpers. Stahlys Royal Haggis was served and the Wildlife Department Warden was presented with a brand new Honda Unicorn 150cc motorcycle for his anti poaching unit. This new body includes local school children who are encouraged to report poachers and it is certainly proving effective. The use of army patrols and the school children has reduced poaching so much that no cases have been reported for the last 12 months. Most of the wild elephants have the great domed head that Raja Gaj carried. Perhaps the DNA results will show that they are descended from this legendary bull.
The scientific results are now being examined with the help of Professor Adrian Lister of the Natural History Museum. Tony Renfrey is putting together a video he and others shot on the expedition and Dr Susanna Curtin of Bournemouth University is preparing a Eco-tourism report. A long list of the birds sighted is being prepared by amateur ornithologist Jack Evans and will be sent to Bird Life International.
By the time the Scientific Expedition Society approved expedition left Nepal much had been achieved. Speaking at the end John Blashford-Snell said “This is the most productive of all the expeditions we have done in Bardia. It is marvellous to discover so much wildlife here and hopefully our efforts to assist the local people and especially their children, will help them to appreciate the value of protecting these animals”. Now we must hope that Bardia recovers from the terrible fire and this unique reserve continues to prosper. The expedition is especially grateful to SES for its help with funding towards the community aid programme and the anti-poaching unit.
Sit Rep No 4 - 22nd April 2012
Expedition has sighted more wild elephants than since surveys started 20 years ago. Now 27 in W. Bardia and 20 in Babai valley.
Exciting meetings with rhino and tiger.
Local villagers much appreciated work of dentists and doctor.
Weather very hot and dry.
Sit Rep No 3 - 19th April 2012
Dentist treated 90 patients in local village and Doctor ran a clinic.
We continue to study the herd of wild elephants. Now number 27. Many young calves. Wild elephants seeking grain destroyed 4 village houses and killed a man. Tigers also seen.
Have excellent film and photographs of wild life.
Move to Babai Valley on 20 April.
Weather hot, 38°C and dry.
Sit Rep No 2 - 12th April 2012
Family Expedition completed successfully. Exciting meetings with wild elephant, rhino and tiger. Children were excellent and Napalese guides magnificent. Senior expedition moves to Bardia 14 April.
Sit Rep No 1 - 1st April 2012
Camp very comfortable. Domestic elephants excellent. Many sightings and exciting meetings. We have seen two tuskers, six young males, three adult females, three young females. All wild elephants. Also seen two rhino, three large bison. Weather hot, dry and hazy. All well.