Call of the MAMMOTH

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Come summer and a bewildering spectacle known as the Elephant Congregation unfolds in the grasslands of Dhikala

A world of wonder awaits in the pristine wilderness of Dhikala, the heart of Jim Corbett National Park, as dense foliage gives way to the endless expanses. Dhikala holds a different charm – the allure of the Wild Elephants (the gentle giants of the Terai) and is a summer home for many of them. Come summer and a bewildering spectacle known as the ‘Elephant Congregation’ unfolds in the grasslands here.

SPOTTING THE GREYS

Nature’s allure grows on the traveller in unprecedented ways at Dhikala. The vast greens dazzle in the golden rays. These appear to be interspersed with specks of grey that are akin to large boulders. Strewn across the chaurs (low lands) they shimmer on the backdrop of the Ramganga reservoir and intrigue us to no end. A closer look reveals that the grey specks are actually wild elephants and so many of them! Large herds feasting on the nourishing sprouts of the Kumaon grasses is a common sight stretching across the Dhikala grasslands. The sight appears as if it is time for a family reunion for the elephants.

FLOCKING TO THE GRASSLANDS

The Elephant Congregation takes place in several parts of India including the Bandipur forest in Karnataka. In the north, the Terai of Corbett seems to be the largest stronghold of the wild elephant congregation and every April-June, these magnificent species flock to the rich grasslands of Dhikala. Space for young ones, rich fodder to appease hunger and water from the Ramganga – they have all they need to survive the harsh months of summer. The richness of this ecosystem compels them to come back every year, year-on-year. It’s like a tradition of sorts. It is a mystery how these giant mammals figure out the routes and the exact time to convene here. And yet, they consistently find their way to this one big jumbo party of the north!

WAY OF LIFE

The elephants live life on their own terms. Apart from this social ritual that unfolds every summer, this mighty animal, most of the time, indulges in playful pranks with its friends. New born calves rejoice in the bounty of sal leaves and chewy grasses, happy to have plentiful food. Many of these little champs are meeting their counterparts for the first time and frolick around with curious frisky stances. The mothers of these young ones introduce the new herd members to their long-distance aunts. These older and wise ones with decades of experience are seen touching the juveniles with their trunks, seemingly ‘blessing’ them for a bright future! As one little calf ventures too far into the shimmering waters and gets stuck in a muddy patch, a medley of trumpets shake the air as its mother and aunts come forth to pull out the confused kid! Somewhere far away from this social madness, you will also find the one-off tusker wandering alone and searching for solace.

A MATRIARCHAL SOCIETY

Elephants are known to be very intelligent animals with strong social hierarchies and norms. A matriarchal society puts the motherchild duo at the center of attention. The matriarch is generally the oldest female of the herd, one who holds a vast repository of ecological knowledge critical for the herd’s survival. Believed to have distinctly strong emotional and psychological needs, wild elephants are known to form ‘kinship’ groups. Communication is integral to these intelligent mammals, often mediated by scent, sound, touch and sight. Visual displays are used to depict aggression, play and possibly even for greeting each other. Tactile senses are central to communication; elephants often place their trunk tip in another elephant’s mouth to signal reassurance. Other distinct communicative behaviours include body rubbing, trunk wrestling and pushing. Acoustics i.e. sound waves in low range frequencies and olfactory senses too are known to foster coordination among elephants. Adult males are distinctly solitary, connecting with herds periodically depending on their mating stage.

SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

These mighty beasts are often oblivious to tourists’ presence, provided safe distance is maintained. But face-offs between brawn and beast are a way of life in the Corbett National Park known for its population of Bengal tigers. Once a single sound of the big cat reverberates from between the grass blades, the herd falls silent. What follows is a mayhem of loud trumpets and treads. The ground vibrates with violent demeanor as the giant beasts scurry for safety towards open land, the mothers standing as sheer walls cushioning their young ones in the safety net of their legs. And then all falls silent again as the roar carries on further away faintly. The elephants have faced the ultimate test.

Written By: Rhucha Kulkarni

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