Elephants are one of the creatures which are revered and feared equally. These magnificent creatures are very deeply rooted to the culture of people and complexly intervened in the ecological process of the forest dynamics. They are known open up new paths and make way for other creatures to forage in the dense forests, they are known to peel off barks thus killing the tree, raid paddy and sugarcane crops and are known to chase and trample those who ignore the innumerable warning signs given by them and cross the limit.
Lot of research from ethology to ecology has been carried out with regard to elephants and many more are still underway however, little work is done on the effect, both psychological and physical of elephants on humans in elephant habitats (mostly on the lighter side!).
The movement of these creatures can be easily detected!
The amount fear generated in the minds of many people especially the assistants, the integral part of a researcher is astounding. All of a sudden the ears prick up, eyes become sharp to notice any movement, both limbs get set to run or climb a tree, whichever is earlier and the stride becomes one that of a spy in an enemy zone and all this is accompanied by discussions on when where and how the elephant has passed, how far it has moved and what time it takes for it to be on our backs. This is often associated with problems like instances where the assistant takes the lead as in one case, all I saw was my assistant running with chappals in his hand and i realized the elephant was heading right where I was standing and followed suit albeit the chappals in hand!
When he was at the back as in another case, he once froze silently without telling me that there was a tusker right ahead of me and I almost walked to trunk shake distance of the giant! End of most cases, one ends up in coaxing and pleading him to continue the work reasoning that the elephant has moved away and is safe to work. Recently when sampling trees for epiphytes, we came across huge tracks of elephants on the trail. Thought the track was visibly a day old, the whole place carried the pungent odour of elephant and going by the size, we guessed it to be a lone tusker. This along with the large imprints of the elephant on the soft soil along a stream seemed to have scared my assistant a lot for he tried to stop us from proceeding further but he yielded to my persistence and agreed to work there for the rest of the day but strongly disagreed to come to work from then on!
The day next, we caught a glimpse of two elephants bathing in the stream near the “wooden bridge”.
People of Nalmuku in general and surrounding tea estates seem to be petrified by these gentle giants due to past experiences and gross exaggeration of the same. When they are on the bus and if they happen to see elephant dung on the road, they end up warning almost everyone who is walking along the road about elephants in the bushes along the road. In reality, their fear is not always exaggeration for elephants in that area maintain a regular route of movement, they start from the forest near Kakachi and move on and along the road via Nalmuku, spend some time in the tea estates and continue further up into the forests of Kodayar all the while leaving a tell tale signs of their movement on the road. though they spend some time in the tea estates, they do not indulge in crop damage but only browse in the corridors but that creates enough fear to prevent people from picking leaves form that field of estate! Prevention seems to be better than the cure in this case.