The latest scientific expedition to
study the unusual giant elephants of West Nepal has just returned after one of
the most exciting and successful quests in this remote area of the Nepalese
Terai. The 20 strong international team used six domestic elephants to comb
dense riverine jungle and dark Sal Forest in search of their huge wild cousins.
The zoologist and palaeontologist, Dr Adrian Lister of University College,
London who has studied these fascinating animals for 6 years was delighted with
the results of the 1999 project. He reports:
"Our first sighting, appropriately, was of Raja Gaj (see below) himself on open ground,
allowing some of the best views and photographs of him to date. He appears in
fine health, the tusk which was broken about 4 years ago having completely
regrown - a growth rate of about 6" per year! He is no longer accompanied
by Kancha but, when we saw him, by a 'new' bull named Tul Guj whom we were able
to observe and photograph in the open - an important addition to the Bardia
The fate of Raja Gaj's former companion Kancha became clear later when we had
several excellent sightings of him, alone and in a poor state. Having lost his
left tusk in a fight about a year ago, he has more recently suffered further
injury, with a large gash and an infected eye on the right side of his face. As
a result of our observations, the Park authorities are planning emergency
darting and veterinary treatment.
During our excursions, we several times observed fresh footprints of female
elephants and calves and on 21st February we encountered a herd of approximately
15 females and young, together with Raja Gaj and two other adult males. This is
the first time we have ever observed the males associating with a female group
and the number of calves and juveniles indicates that there is hope for the
future of the population.
We await our group's photographs and video of the herd in the hope that it may
be possible to categorise some of the females and young by age and identifying
A small party in the Babai valley also came across and successfully recorded a
family of seven females and young.
We have thus added significantly to the Bardia elephant census this year."
The team also encountered an aggressive wild young bull named Bhim Guj who was
only deterred from charging by the loud trumpeting of all the female riding
elephants and shrill blasts of expedition leader Colonel John Blashford-Snell's
referee's whistle. Later that night Bhim entered the expedition camp in pursuit
of females and his progress was monitored through a Pilkington Image
In this naturalists' paradise the expedition sighted a total of 22 species of
mammal including leopard, rhino, jackal, fishing cat, wild dog, otter, mongoose,
the rarely seen Nilgai and the highly endangered Gangetic Dolphin.
However, without doubt the most dramatic encounter was with an extremely fierce
Royal Bengal Tigress who charged the domestic elephants four times with
bloodcurdling roars whilst defending her kill.
Over a hundred species of birds were recorded and several reptiles including
enormous fish eating crocodiles and turtles were seen. A nine foot python was
also found and extracted for study from its lair by the intrepid doctor Garry
Adrian Lister, the scientific director said "This has been our most
successful expedition yet in this area and we sincerely hope it will do much to
encourage the protection of all the wildlife in this remote region".