Today began at dawn, leaving our rooms for the short bus journey into Sariska park as the sunrise brightened the Anogeissus pendula trees on the horizon, highlighting their russet, gold and auburn shades. Our task for the morning was to complete line transects on foot, a similar exercise to yesterday’s vehicle transects, but over a distance of only 2km. Walking through the dry deciduous forest landscape, we saw all the signs of the previous nights nocturnal visitors – tiger pug marks, porcupine quills and spoor, nilgai and sambar tracks and dung, hyena tracks. In comparison to the quiet morning, the night had been busy. My group only counted 4 peafowl, 2 hens and 2 cocks on our transect. Other groups recorded cheetal, sambar, wild pigs and nilgai.
We began the day as usual with great expectations to learn new things in the world of the Wild, even though we relocated from Sariska Palace Hotel to Sariska Tiger Heaven, of course, the relocation became necessary in order to avoid the distractions as a result of a mega wedding that was to start the same day in Sariska palace hotel which lasted for three days. However, as soon as we settle down in our new accommodation, we immediately had some presentations after which we set out for the field exercise. The exercise for the day was for the course participants to carry out animal population sampling and monitoring using road transect method. The students were divided into five groups which each group expected to cover a distance of 10 km. An Open vane vehicles were used by the students to enable them sight and properly determine the distant as well as to count the animals.
At the tail end of the exercise, three groups were able to sight a Tiger walking majestically in the forest of Sariska Tiger reserve. It was indeed a beautiful sight to behold a tiger walking real time in a free-range situation.
This morning we were called by the director Dr. Shankar. We all have been waited in the fields to learn how to use a compass, GPS and range-finder.
Several workshops were set up for us. It was looking like a movie set where all newbies technicians must understand and learn how to use their tools for the upcoming shoot. First, learn to estimate distance and taking bearing. These tasks seem easy at first view but in fact precision is difficult. Taking the wrong landmark like a bush or a rock and your estimation is totally wrong. For most of us we’ll have to practice a little more…at least! Like James Cameron or Ridley Scott might say – ‘precision is the most important thing’.
Using a GPS is hell of an amusement. We are like the Goonies searching for the long-lost fortune of One-Eyed Willy. In reality it consisted in walking by pair in the search of the GPS point within the shrubs watched by disillusioned birds and mongooses.
Our day started with a lecture from Dr Ruchi Badola, who is a social economist. We discussed creating a dialogue with the villagers within the national park, as part of the re-location programme. It is important that the villagers are heard and their concerns are listened to so that there is a greater understanding of their condition by the conservationists and that these people also understand the policies of the latter. After the lecture, we went to one of 29 villages still located within the park; 3 have already been re-located. The people have visitors about every three to four months and welcomed our visit. They were incredibly friendly and all ages gathered round. There were many bright clothing materials which were beautiful against the backdrop of a clear, blue sky. We sat outside with them and gained a better understanding of their lives through asking them questions; this was translated for the English-speaking amongst us. They even gave us an insight into their homes as well as refreshments. The chai was so sweet and hot: it was delicious; the best so far. The women gave some of our group (Olga, Alice, Karen and Alex) a memory to cherish: they were dressed in traditional clothing and danced with some of the women, whilst the others sang. Apparently, it was incredibly tiring and it was explained to us that the women are very fit because they do most of the work in the village; ladies, need I say more…
It was a misty morning… cool but pleasant. We headed out by bus to Bandipul and then on foot. Here there are 2 tigers, 1 male and 1 female, reside. A female sambar (Cervus Unicolor) and several langurs (Semnopithecus entellus) watched as we took off down the trail following the river. After a short hike through and up steep rough terrain (nothing we couldn’t handle) in the forest we spotted tiger scat that contained tan hair which was determined to be sambar hair, the principle diet for the tigers. If the hair was white we would know that the diet was the common langur. This scat can be sent back to the lab to be analyzed to determine food habits. We proceeded to the top to find the watch tower and a tree that had scrapings on the trunk from the sambar and tiger claw scrapings just above. The sambar will scrape when their antlers are in velvet and ready to be removed driven by hormones. The watch tower was used for shooting purposes. Bait would be tied out and attacked and then the shooter would have their opportunity. On the way back down we came across a different scat that was reddish in color and smaller in size compared to the tiger scat earlier. It was porcupine because of the color and the acacia bark is the main diet of the Indian porcupine. As we neared the bus we found the langurs waiting in the trees at the bottom to have their pictures taken.
After visiting Bandipul and a short break we resumed in the lecture room for a discussion on human-wildlife-livestock conflict in Sariska National Park by the director of the park. We learned that some people are compensated for cattle loss due to tigers and others are not depending on if they are lost in the park. Also the main problem in the park is lack of food and water due to the severe drought conditions especially this year.
Should I go back home or should I stay?
At the SARISKA PALACE Hotel, Everyone is excited and looking forward to the field course that has gathered us together: “Interventions in Wild Animal Health”. With warm welcome, it is hard to believe that the group has done a 4 hours bus journey from IBIS hotel (New Dehli, India) to SARISKA TIGER RESERVE.
This is the first session of the MVetSci Conservation Medicine residential course in Interventions in Wild Animal Health from the University of Edinburgh…
The blogs to follow will be provided by students and staff participating in this 4 week field trip to Rajasthan, India