Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Wealth of Knowledge

It's been a week since I came to the field station in Masinagudi near to the Mudumalai Wildlife Santuary, and the environment is captivating. Time has flown by so quickly since I've been in India, here especially, and I wish I could triple my stay. 

I've been conducting my survey over a wide demographic, getting varying perspective on human elephant conflict and interactions in the area and the cultural significance that the animal has to the people living alongside them. This has proven to be a little difficult at times due to transportation availability and more importantly translation. I've realized that the logistics of what I intended to do we're oversimplified in my mind,  and actually carrying things out here factors in so many components. Nevertheless, I've still managed to gather a great amount of knowledge on the history of elephant conflict in the area and personal interactions with elephants. 

Much of my information has come from the trackers who accompany field researchers into the forest. These trackers are tribals, and so have a lifetime of interaction with the wildlife.  They understand the behavior and movement of wild animals, which is essential for observing elephants in the forest and preventing conflict in their habitat during research. This translates into their understanding of human elephant conflict in the area, which is a result of the loss of boundaries between forest and settlement. Although older tribals understand why elephants come into conflict with villagers, they don't always take proper measures to prevent raiding and maintain solar fences and trenches put in to deter elephants. Therefore, one of the most important things that can be done is educating the younger generation on how to better conflict areas, and how important  it is to have an ecological understanding of the space elephants need.   

Elephants are so intrinsic to the culture of india as a whole, especially in these small forest villages. When I ask about the significance elephants have to many of the tribals and mahouts, they speak of the animals with respect and fondness. It's quite interesting to hear this perspective when others find the animals such a nuisance and wish to keep them as far away as possible. Observing elephants is captivating. Their movements are so fascinating and they show such human like personalities. They appear so docile and friendly which makes it hard not to love them.  But like all people, they can be unpredictable and have naughty tendencies, and this is when conflict occurs. 

The more I speak with people here and hear their stories, the more questions I have. i want to learn so much more  about these people's lives alongside elephants, and I'm so sad my time is nearing its end.  Everyone at the field station and the locals who have invited me into their homes for tea have shown such warmth and hospitality. They've made my stay more than memorable, and have sparked my desire to return. My last week and a half will be bittersweet, but I can only dwell on the fact that every moment of my stay has been an unforgettable experience that I can carry back to the States and hold onto forever.  

Mudumalai is the 51 year old tusker whose mahout I interviewed at the Thepakadu Elephant Camp 

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