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NEPAL ELEPHANT QUEST 2000

SCIENTIFIC EXPLORATION SOCIETY ELEPHANT QUEST 1999

(This Report appears with the kind permission of the Scientific Exploration Society) 

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 elephant census.

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 features.

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 Intensifier.

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 Savin.

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".