After returning from my recent trip to Nepal I have realised I have numorous stories to share with you
all through this blog. As there are so many I thought I would break them down into separate entries and feed them onto the blog over time. Most of you by now will know how lazy I am at adding blog entries so lets hope the momentum of my adventures will inspire me for weeks to come. I thought I’d start off with a brief entry on the main purpose of visiting Nepal and some of the conclusions that have come from it. I hope you enjoy and pleased keep in touch for more posts.
Bardiya 2012 It seems as if it all were a dream right now. I can hardly believe that a few weeks ago I was sitting in the back of an old 1970’s landrover being chased by a suspected man killer elephant. For those of you that follow my limited entries on this blog you will know I am now referring to the recent expedition I have fortunately returned safely home from. The expedition was with the intrepid explorer Colonel Blashford Snell to an area of Nepal to research into the wild elephant population of Bardiya National Park. The project was originally penned as a Mammoth hunt but this was more for historical and local reasons than it was for the purpose of science. In truth the expedition was a worthwhile study into the movements, population and genealogy of very rare wild elephants.
Bardiya National Park - Nepal
Nepal has quite a sizeable population of domestic elephants buts wild herds have dwindled over the years as encroachment and habitat has diminished extensively. I was invited to join this expedition along with 18 people all experienced in various areas of expertise. Our aim was also to try and help the local population by administering medical and dental aid together with contributions to welfare. The purpose of this was to try and at least show the local community we did care about their needs as much as we did the elephants. It is useless going abroad as the wealthy foreigner sticking our nose into local wildlife problems with out understanding the bigger picture. The bigger picture in this case was that the wild elephants here at Bardiya National Park were not necessarily that popular. They are in fact quite a nuisance, they raid local farmland destroying and stealing crops. As well as this they also unfortunately attack local residents often killing the villagers who want nothing more than to be left alone to get on with their lives. It must look horrendous for them when a team of foreigners arrives on their doorstep to help study and conserve the very thing that is their mortal enemy. All we could do was at least show them we care and that it is not all about the elephants and with a little time, education and help perhaps the villagers and the elephants might one day be able to live side by side.
Colonel Blashford Snell talking to the villagers.
I don’t know if this worked but I do know on the day we all turned up at the local school it seemed the entire community had turned up to greet us. Admittedly the dentists and doctor had been busy treating an enormous queue of patients since the crack of dawn. We had a small ceremony where a computer was donated to the school along with various other gifts. Next it was a serious meeting with the village men to discuss the ongoing elephant problems and what could be done. Solutions were discussed and hopefully some action plans are now being put into place involving the use of new batteries for electric fences. To end the whole event a terrific hearts and minds exercise was set up in the form of an elephant football match. We had brought along with us 4 domestic elephants who were there to show the locals not all elephants are bad. They took it in turns to ride the elephants throughout a very humorous game of elephant football where much jumbo cheating took place.
Definitely a yellow card offence - trunk ball.
Yes it was a good laugh and the locals did find it all very amusing but the serious issue of what was going on was clearly brought to out attention later. We were to hear that the previous week a man had been killed trying to protect his family and house. His wife had been badly injured leaving three small children without a father. This was the reality of living with wild elephants on a daily basis.
Overall as an expedition the results were quite amazing with a population count of the largest amount of elephants ever recorded in this area. It was also interesting to observe and record the movement patterns and locations of the varying herds. The DNA samples were successfully collected and have been sent off to Cambridge for ongoing research. Together with the elephant monitoring other studies were also made including ornithological, herpetological, entomological and botanical which will eventually all be compiled and filed in an overall report for submission to the national park authority of Nepal.
If any of you have read my book Pencils Patience and Primates you will be aware of my travelling companion Dave who journeyed with me on many of my earlier travels. I also used to say that wherever Dave went, impending doom nearly always followed, usually in the form of a natural disaster. It seems that this time Dave has passed over this unfortunate title to myself as I can report of a terrible catastrophe in Nepal directly where I was located. Practically on the day after we left our remote campsite at the Babai in Bardiya a fire took holding which went on to wreak havoc and burn through most of the national park. On the BBC news website they have estimated as much 70 percent has been destroyed including much of the wildlife. Fortunately after hearing a more accurate account form staff working within the park they have said although the fire has been most destructive it is thought most of the bigger wildlife might have fled to safety. Unfortunately this does mean that much of the smaller life including plants, insects and reptiles will certainly have perished. The cause of the fire is thought to have been human by way of a cigarette or match. They do burn areas of land each year in the national parks to help naturally restore the grass and feed the ground below it with nutrients, this could also have been a culprit that got out of hand.
The Babai - before the fires.
The Babai - During the fires. copyright J.Blashford Snell
I will hopefully be informing you of more adventures in my next post including tiger hunting by elephants and a close shave with a King Cobra.
Bye for now,
Close encounters with elephantsBy Jon Isaacs
When driving in Britain, it is a convention to give way to traffic approaching from the right. In Africa when driving, it is a convention to give way to elephants, no matter from which direction they appear!
I was musing on this fact when it occurred to me that most of my hair-raising moments on safari have involved elephants.
Elephant giving a warning not to get too close
Photo Copyright Jon Isaacs 2012
It’s not that I dislike elephants. In fact, I find their behaviour fascinating. It’s just that we tend not to get along too well when in close proximity.
I first saw wild elephant in a marsh in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. As they exited the water, I noted that the smaller elephants were dark, having been totally submerged in water during their foraging, whilst the larger elephants each had a tide line, reflecting how big they were and how deeply into the swamp they had gone. Each elephant had its attendant egrets, which would hop down to eat insects disturbed by the elephants’ feet, and then fly back on board for a rest. I soon learnt that any viewing of a herd of eli would result in interesting behaviour being displayed, and that all one had to do was to find a herd, stay at a safe distance, be prepared to sit quietly, and see what developed.
Elephant swimming in the Selous
Photo Copyright Jon Isaacs 2012
At times however, the problem can be to know what is a safe distance for a particular elephant or situation. That can only be determined by your experienced guide, who can hopefully read the visual signs the elephants are giving.
In South Luangwa one day, we came across a bull elephant with a heavy discharge running down the sides of his face. It was in a state of musth, a sexual state of arousal when searching for females on heat. At about 6000 kg he was not to be trifled with and the driver stopped at what he considered a safe distance. Luckily he left the engine running, for in an instant, with ears tight back, the elephant charged. Fortunately the driver was very experienced and, slipping the gears into reverse, we hurtled backwards in excess of thirty miles an hour. Avoiding trees, we had travelled nearly two hundred yards before the bull pulled up. With an aggressive shake of his head and a trumpet, he swaggered back towards the deeper bush. Had he caught us, he could easily have flipped the jeep with dire consequences for us all.
Sometimes, a situation develops more slowly, but with the same potential for disaster. An example occurred in the Mara one evening when we were coming slowly up a dirt road from a watering hole. There were banks either side of us and upon turning a bend, we were faced by a herd of about twenty elis, making their way down the road towards the water. We couldn’t easily reverse, nor get out over the high banks so the driver cut the engine and told us to keep quiet and not make any sudden movement. Slowly the herd moved towards us, with the matriarch in the lead, followed by young bulls, cows and calves. The senior bulls brought up the rear. As they passed on either side of us they scented us with trunks raised and flared. Small, intelligent eyes weighed us up, ears flapped and heads were shaken, but they kept walking. Eventually the entire herd had negotiated us and continued on down the road. It was a wonderful, if daunting experience to be so close to such huge creatures, and due to the good judgement of our driver and guide, one from which we emerged safely.
However, not all close encounters with elephant are frightening. Some can even be funny and such was the meeting with Big Mike. We were staying in a temporary camp in the Luangwa valley and had a large trestle table, set up for our evening meal, on top of a small bank. A dozen of us sat down to the meal which was presided over by the camp manager Little Mike. As we consumed the early courses we noted that the area’s resident bull, Big Mike, was in a patch of bush below us. The elephant had been known in the area for over forty years, long before the seasonal camps had been erected, and he definitely felt superior to the humans who regularly invaded his patch. As we moved towards the final course of fruit, Big Mike moved ever closer. Little Mike assured us we were quite safe so we continued eating. Scenting the fruit, Big Mike decided the opportunity was too good to miss and so he slowly started to scale the bank. As his trunk appeared sliding up the table leg from below, Little Mike calmly and quietly murmured that it was a bit close for comfort. With that, our collective nerve broke and we departed at speed in all directions away from the table. The trunk hoovered up the fruit from a dozen plates and the sound of pleased rumbles arose from below. Having stolen our dessert, he wandered off in search of more delicacies, whilst we sheepishly returned from our hiding places to rescue the remains of the scattered chairs and plates.
Young male Elephant heading into the bush
Photo Copyright Jon Isaacs 2012
Invariably it is the bull elephants that seem to cause the problems, whatever their age. A two year old once repeatedly mock charged us in our stationary jeep. Getting ever more excited and brave, he eventually ended up stopping a couple of metres short of the jeep, at which we all laughed at him. This completely unnerved him and he fled to the middle of a bushy area from which he had to be rescued by his older and much calmer sister. On another occasion, a mature bull decided to go to sleep resting against the entrance to our rondaval. With us trapped inside, it was our turn to have to be rescued, this time by a guide, who helped us escape by climbing through an open window on the other side of the building.
Two year old male Elephant mock charging
Photo Copyright Jon Isaacs 2012
Close encounters with elephants are therefore always educational and exciting. Each encounter has left me with vivid memories of an animal for which I have the utmost respect. I also instinctively know who will give way at the next dusty roadside crossing.
Jon Isaacs, 2012
Thanks Jon for another great article and some brilliant photo's of Elephants.
Sorry it's taken me so long to add this post.
It seems only yesterday I was first commenting about the forthcoming expedition I have joined to Nepal. I cannot believe it is here already, the time has shot past and before I know it I will be on my way to Katmandu. Because of family commitments I have to say it has been a few years since I last travelled like this and it is really nice to be getting back to what I love best. I know the people who make such wonderful comments about my drawings love the pictures for their subject matter above all else. To me they all tell stories from my memories of places I have been where encounters have taken place. Ok not all of them have been in exotic places or far off lands but they still revoke a memory from a time in my life where I first captured each picture in my head.
With not travelling for some time I must admit I did have to dust off the old kit and pull all of the gear out of the attic. It has amazed me how much stuff I have built up over the years. Nearly a carrier bag full of old chloroqin, deet soaked bandanas, a box of broken mosquito coils and rusty machetes. I supose anyone who travels with a jungle fixation and is a bit lazy at clearing old stuff out will know what I am talking about. Never the less I am sorting through it all in preparation for joining the Royal Bardia Mammoth Expedition next week.
I am very much looking forward to sampling the delights of Nepal, I only wish I had a little longer to explore more of its temples and human places of interest. I will be pleasantly engaged in matters of natural history and sketchbooks. My first stiop will be travelling down to Chitwan in the South of the country hopefully making some contacts and researching some of the work with the remarkable Gharial. As usual any chance I get wherever I go, if I can fit in a close encounter with a crocodile it will be top of my list. Gharials are not my favorite reptiles and even I must admit they are not the prettiest of creatures but what they lack in looks they certainly make up for with their strangely developed evolutionary shape.
From hear I will travel westbound to join the Mammoth expedition I have previously written about. More than anything over the past few months I have been trying my best to brush up my skills as an elephant artist. It has been some while since I last spent time drawing elephants in any detail and they were often of the African variety. There are now (quite rightly so) so few elephants kept in captivity in the UK it is very difficult to just nip down to a local zoo and sit and sketch them for a few hours. I have had to make do with my library of zoological books I have built up over the years, making studies of anatomy, form and textures.
Whatever happens while I am away I am in no doubt I will be more than inspired to come back and produce some related drawings to my travels, including elephants. With a bit of luck I hope I will get the chance to up date the blog whilst I am away but this does seem a little optomistic with communications being very limited to the area I will be stayng.
All the best,
'He needn't think he's coming however hard he tries'
A year in the life of a wildlife art fan
In the media, the end of the year is a time of reflection. When I reflect upon the previous year it often amazes me what has happened in the world that I have completely forgotten about, although at the time the event was greeted with excitement or incredulity.
I therefore decided that, for 2011, I would make an effort to write down events in my wildlife year. Hopefully the reader will find some of the entries interesting.
A time of anticipation. Have submitted an article to Wildlife Sketches on why I’m interested in wildlife and art. I’m pleased with the way it looks, especially with David’s excellent prints for illustration. Hope readers find it interesting.
Heard from one artist who is going to paint a cheetah brother coalition I photographed at Ann Van Dykes last year.
Went to see David about the possibility of him drawing a King cheetah, my favourite big cat. I’ve hardly ever seen it depicted in art. I know he’ll do it better than anybody. Took photos for reference and had a great chat about the big cats and some of his hopes for the coming year.
The coalition painting is finished. I think it looks striking. The artist has also done another of a lying down cheetah. Hopefully they will both sell in these difficult times.
Heard from one of our South African friends that we met on safari last year. They’re off to the Mara in Kenya this year so we’re suitably envious.
We’ve been thumbing through the holiday brochures whilst outside it seems to do nothing but rain. Decided on Madagascar. Expensive but we’ll soon be too old to enjoy, or be able to afford, that sort of holiday so will go whilst we’re able and it’s still got some wildlife and habitat left. The David Attenborough series has been on tv. Fortunately we booked before it started as the series is bound to get others interested and accommodation and flights are limited. We’re not going to October due to wanting to go in the dry season when some of the leaves are off the trees and the lemurs have had their young. Hopefully, should be great for lemur and chameleon photographic references for artists, although I think that photographing in a rainforest is going to be really tough.
Put the final touches to an article on Giant Pandas and as Edinburgh zoo are acquiring a pair from China in the near future, thought it might be a good time to submit it for possible publishing on Wildlife Sketches.
Have also been seeing what all my favourite artists are planning for 2011 by viewing their websites. The exhibitions will soon be starting.
Finally decided to write an article about the kudu kill we witnessed last year. Quite pleased with the result but it needs polishing.
Bought books on Madagascan birds, mammals and language in readiness for our trip later in the year.
Found some brilliant footage of one of our destinations in Madagascar on You Tube. The guy who took it was very generous in spending some time answering my questions, especially about a lemur reserve we’re going to. Can’t wait for October to hopefully get some great shots.
Heard from Vince and am pleased he liked the panda article. It would be great if more people contributed to Wildlife Sketches.
Spotted my hundredth British bird species since Xmas.
Great to see David’s blog and new print of a Chinese alligator. Hope it sells well.
David Shepherd’s exhibition of wildlife art is on at the Mall Galleries in London. Tempted to go as some of the work looks exciting. However, all the works are on the web so not sure I can justify the expense, although to see the real thing is always special.
Joined the Hants and Isle of Wight Naturalist Trust. They’ve got a 50th anniversary wildlife photographic competition which I want to have a go at. Judged by Chris Packham, it would be brilliant to be one of the twelve winners who will get the chance to meet him and have their photos turned into a calendar. Is photography art? The way Chris Packham takes photos, I’d say definitely yes.
Had a final check on my article on King Cheetahs and sent it off to Wildlife Sketches.
Got busy taking photos for the photo competition.
Didn’t go to London as all of the paintings were on the web. Some stunning work.
Continued to take photos at every opportunity. Joined Flickr to enable me to take part in the competition. The whole concept of Flickr intrigues me and I hope I can cope with the technical side. The standard on Flickr is incredibly high but you’ve got to be in it to win it. Selected my favourite five and successfully submitted them.
Wildlife Sketches put my article on line and I’m pleased with the way it looks.
Checked the sequel article on my efforts to see and photograph a King Cheetah at De Wildts and sent that off.
Art exhibitions are gathering pace. Viewed NEWA exhibition on line and saw BBC Wildlife artist of 2011 winners in the magazine. Won by Stella Mayes whom I really rate. I am fortunate enough to own one of her pastels.
Second cheetah article published. I think they work well together and I hope readers enjoy them. I certainly enjoyed researching and writing these two.
Over eight hundred entries in the photographic competition so plenty of opposition.
Results announced. Didn’t win but enjoyed the experience and some of the winners are stunning. However, I heard that one of my photos might be included as a small additional photo. Great!
Wrote a requested article on Amur leopards. One of my favourite cats so will be interested to see how it is received.
Went to the MIWAS exhibition at Marwell . Great to see such a variety of subjects and styles. It is always fun to talk to the artists and to see old friends.
Spent over twenty hours at Marwell as the Snow leopards have had triplets. Met many interesting people to talk to while we all waited for the extremely shy cubs to put in an appearance. Finally got some really pleasing shots of the triplets and mum. One of the photos made a small appearance in the Marwell magazine and I had some generous comments on Flickr.
Heard the first inkling of David’s forthcoming exhibition at Eastleigh which is always an exciting event. The new print of a sleeping otter is superb!
Final preparations for the Madagascan holiday. Can’t wait!
The holiday finally arrives. Late plane flights and all luggage lost got us off to a stressful start. However, two great lodges, fantastic people and wildlife to die for certainly resulted in many wonderful memories and an edit of 800 photos to work through. Amazing how many Brits were there as a result of watching Attenboroughs BBC series. As I thought, photographing in a rain forest in rain with foliage and leeches on my head was difficult! Eight species of lemurs were however photographed which was more than I hoped for. Should be another article or two in the trip for Wildlife Sketches.
Spent a couple of weeks editing the Madagascan photos and then getting them printed and put in a couple of albums.
We decided to have a go at a calendar on lemurs using our photos.
Decided to change all the photos in frames in our kitchen to have some of our best Madagascan photos on show. We also had three canvases done of lemur portraits which look great. The overall result we find pleasing and should give us a fresh look in the kitchen for a while.
Went to David’s exhibition at The Picture Framing Gallery in Eastleigh. A super exhibition and it was great to see his new originals. Thought the spider monkey and the frogs were excellent. Also thought the eyes on the fossa drawing were amazing. Shame we didn’t see any fossa in Madagascar.
Finished the month down at Marwell and actually got an hour of viewing and photographing the snow leopard cubs which have really grown.
Had an email from Marwell saying they wanted to use one of my earlier cub photos for a xmas card so am really pleased.
Great to see the pandas arrive at Edinburgh zoo. Need to plan a trip to see them as I’ve seen all the others that have been on our shores.
Saw my 125th British bird species, a tree sparrow of all things. Don’t know how I missed recording it earlier in the year. It gives me a healthy total to try and beat next year.
Any spare time not going on Xmas preparation is being used on Flickr to make up new photo sets and to admire the work of others. Probably one of the most enjoyable things I’ve started all year.
Most of the holiday brochures have arrived for 2012 and a time of anticipation is again occurring . The yearly cycle of a wildlife art fan is therefore almost complete.
Exhibition of original drawings and prints.
Come along for the the rare opportunity to purchase one of David's originals and get the chance to pick up one of his newly released limited edition prints. There will also be a huge back catalogue of prints both old and new, some incredibly rare.
The Picture Framing Gallery
41 High Street, Eastleigh
Hampshire, SO50 5LG
Sunday 27th November
12.00 - 4.00