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John Nielsen  







Commentary; John Nielsen commentary; Chitwan National Park; Indian Rhinoceros; Asian Elephant  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
28 Mar 2001

  • Nepal
  • Chitwan National Park; The Nepal Conservation Research Training Centre
  • 27.5   84.33333
  • Mono
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Mono=1; Single-Channel Mono; DPA 4060 Omnidirectional Microphone

Show: Nepal
Log of DAT #: 3
Engineer: McQuay
Date: March 28, 2001

ng = not good
ok = okay
g = good
vg = very good


1:03 JN ¿ when people think about base camps in Nepal they usually think about the one at 17,000 feet near Mt. Everest that is possibly more important environmentally. It is near sea level at the top of the Ganges River plain. This is the King Mahendra Trust for Wildlife Conservation. And it as at the edge ¿ we are here

1:39 JN ¿ that is where we are this morning and we are getting ready to get up on some elephants and go out and round up some rhinos 1:47

5:43 JN - we are at the edge of the forest. the sun is coming up. We are getting on the elephants. There is a morning fog. Incredible sun. a big fiery, red ball, low in the sky

elephant drivers are called Mahoud

6:39 JN ¿ it is an unusual thing to climb up an elephant ¿ ok, this thing? Up here? Ahh. Namaste ¿ move forward ¿ ok¿..a little bit forward, ok. ..ok, you can feel this guy's spine cutting up through the saddle¿.it is a bigger guy than yesterday¿.and that is sal? Those trees? Mostly.

8:50 JN ¿ hard to believe an animal this big can be so nimble. Kind of gliding through the grass at the end of the woods. Stepping lightly. Several thousand pounds. Stepping lightly.

9:36 JN: We are in the woods now.

9:51 JN - a lot of tigers in this park, fortunately tigers have very little interest in people sitting on top of elephants! That is what they tell me¿.(laughter) tigers have very little interest in people
10:29 JN - the forest is low and open. A lot of brush on the bottom. A lot of tall hard wood trees called Sal, craggy things. We are weaving our way through like it is an obstacle course.

11:05 JN ¿ how many elephants do we have today? (anil ¿ maybe 16) 16, 17, 18

11:20 JN - there is a line of 18 elephants divided into 2 lines ¿ we are moving towards the place that we think the rhinos are and then when we get there idea is to surround them and then shoot them, dart them (Anil) dart them with an anesthetic that knocks them out, then everybody jumps off and takes measurements and maybe take a blood sample and then they load them on to a sled, tow the sled on the back of a bulldozer, a front loader, to a truck where they put the rhino into a big wooden rate, basically and then drive it to another park.

13:00 ¿ there is something over there ¿ a rhino. You just see the ears, and there it is.

13:27 JN ¿ is this the animal we have come for?

14:12 rhinos technically are

14:29 JN ¿ rhinos are related to cows, but they look like tanks ¿ a land cow? No? I am wrong.

14:50 JN ¿ rhinos are herbivores. They eat crops. They eat plants. They eat grasses. There he goes he is trotting off ¿ gliding off ¿ disappearing in to the bushes. We don't want to charge. Once we spot the rhino the elephants spread off into formation. There are about 8 of them. Kind of a stand off. Each elephant has several people on top of it. 2 of the rhinos have shooters. Guys with shooters loaded with an extremely potent derivative of morphine called M99. Hit the rhino in the right place and you knock it out in 15 mins. Now he is snorting. Moving away from us right now. ¿ everytime we stop the spider decides to take a few bites. Move through the woods and elephant grabs pretty large tree branches. He just snaps them off so we can keep going¿..looking right at us.

17:29 JN ¿ the plan here is to kind of nudge the rhino out of the woods into an open area where you can dart it and move it. If it falls over here you can't get the tractor here to tow it to the crate (yelling in the bg).

17:53 JN ¿ rhinos feed on the grasses in forests like these.

18:23 JN ¿ rhinos are classified as wild cows, classically, but they don't look like cows. They look like tanks. Inch thick leathery skin, folded over on itself, so it looks like armored plating.

18:50 a big horn in the front, of course. (great horn call in bg). And a head that looks like it belongs on a Stegosaurus. 19:03

19:22 JN ¿ the cockadoodle-do you hear is not a rooster, in the sense that anybody in the US is used to roosters. It is actually the bird the rooster is descending from. It is wild. Ok, we are moving faster here. He is trying to get away. 15 feet dead ahead. Turning. Swerving around the sal trees through the brush. Getting whipped by the branches now and then. Local custom says these animals are immortal. Local custom also says the urine of these animals can cure an earache or asthma, and of course poachers sell ground-up rhino horn for thousands of dollars an ounce. That is why these things are so rare. That and habitat loss. Ok, we are closing in. This guy is jumpy! You do not want to be charged by a rhino. It rarely happens. But you never know.

21:43 they keep out flanking it ¿ it tries to glide out horizontally and elephants on either end of the line move forward, and edge it back towards the center. We are coming to the edge of the forest now. They are yelling directions back and forth. When biologists use the term charismatic this is what they are talking about.

22:40 JN ¿ leviathan in a word that comes to mind.

22:46 JN - Ok, we have him surrounded. We are right on the edge of the woods. Calling to the other line of elephants going into approach. What makes a good working elephant? What quality do they have? (Anil: obedience)¿.so the elephants in this group would be sort of an extended family unit. A little repositioning going on here.

24:03 JN - 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 elephants, 3 or 4 people on top of each one, 2 shooters, big riffles loaded with something called M99, a powerful morphine derivative that can knock the rhino out in 15 mins. They made a circle around him. He is just standing there, not moving, except for the ears, twitching back and forth, just coming out of the brush ¿ trying to figure out what to do probably. Trying to figure out whether or not to make a run. You don't want that.

25:08 a call in the bg (a horn?)

25:24 JN ¿ the rhino driver in front of me is called a mahoud.

26:20 JN ¿ it is a waiting game right now.

26:45 JN ¿ ok, at this moment we are in a forest in Nepal, near sea level, near the border with India, and I am sitting on an elephant and I am looking at a rhino and it is looking at me. It is actually 9 elephants in a circle around this rhino. Each one has 3 or 4 people on top of it. Most of the people are ¿ herders, called mahoud, or technically people associated with govt of Nepal or the WWF or the King Mahendra Trust for Wildlife Preservation¿.(Anil) It is natural conservation.

28:19 JN- ok, we are in a natl park ¿ Chitwan ¿ Royal Chitwan Natl Park, in Nepal at the top of the Ganges River flood plain, near the border with India, and I am on an elephant that is a part of a circle with 16 other elephants. Each of the elephants has ¿

28:58 that was the dart gun ¿ a little pop there ¿ it charged off snorting through the woods ¿ it has a about 15 mins of mobility left, if everything goes well. (screaming in the bg )

29:56 JN ¿ ok, that little crack ¿ that muffled pop was the dart gun. The rhino is trotting back and forth, checking out the circle of elephants, trying to figure out if there is way out. Maybe 1500 pound, thick gray, inch thick skin that looks like armor, a head that looks like a Stegosaurus. Big ears moving back and forth ¿ well they look like sound periscopes. And he is still alert, but not for long hopefully.

31:00 JN - The birds around us are sounding maybe an alarm, definitely aware of what is going on. You can see through the edges of the woods, into a field where there is a thick fog. It is like the world ends at the end of this forest. Everybody is watching. Waiting.

32:07 JN ¿ rhinos are very very fast, and you don't want them to break the line. We are moving in ¿ closing the circle ¿ the rhino is less mobile, the ears are ¿ he is backing up ¿ not so groggy after all ¿ there he goes, rumbling off to the side ¿ 11:00 heading towards that edge of a circle. Trying to move him out of the woods, otherwise it will be really difficult to get him onto the sled that tracker comes and drags to the wooden crate that is loaded on the truck that takes this rhino to another park here in Nepal. Rhinos are really rare, the greater one horned Asian rhinos. The greater one horned Asian rhinos are really rare. There are only a couple of thousand of them in the world. But here in Royal Chitwan Park, they have a lot of them. They have almost 600 ¿ they have got so many that they move them to other parks from time to time in an effort to rebuild populations in other parts of Nepal. That is what we are doing now. These translocations have been taken place for more than 15 years. And the translocations have been undertaken in other parts of the world ¿ in Africa ¿ none, have been so successful, and none have come so close as to being perfected as a science and as an art as the ones practiced here. 34:16

34:25 JN ¿ the mahoud, the elephant driver, carries a couple of sticks, actually an ax handle with a little ax head on it, which he occasionally taps on the skull of this great big animal that we are riding. That has got to sting. The elephant doesn't seem to mind¿basically snapped a small tree in half there so we could get through to the edge. Ok the rhino is 20 yards ahead. Dead ahead. Much groggier. Staggering a litle bit. we are backing it up ¿ trying to get it close. Sort of lurching away from us. Through brush that is about 16 feet tall. Elephant grass actually. That is what they call it.

35:52 JN ¿ what a scene this is ¿ the woods are now behind us, the truck are ahead of us. There is an open kind of a meadow. 36:06 there he goes! Trotting off towards the trucks ¿ the meadow ¿ doing what we want him to do. Oops! He is making a break ¿ not moving so fast, but trying to get around the edge of the line there. Yeah, they have got to go bring him back now. They don't want him back in the woods.

37:00 JN ¿ Asian elephants are really rare. When people talk about the threat to elephants they talk about Africa. But actually Asian elephants are in much worse shape. There are only a thousand of them left in the world. Most are wild. Some are used to carry tourists back and forth, and a few an elite core if you will, are used as research vehicles. I am on one of them now.

37:37 JN - We are in Royal Chitwan Natl Park, I am riding on one of 9 elephants being used to surround and round up a rhino ¿ a greater one horned Asian rhinoceros

38:05 JN ¿ going down ¿ Oh! There he goes. He is down to his ¿ he has just dropped down to his ¿ ok, the rhino's head has just dropped to the ground. Standing up ¿ his feet are ¿ ok, the front legs have collapsed, the head is on the ground, they are waiting for the back legs to go¿ oh, there it is! Laying down in the brush ¿ now the specialists move in 38:55

39:11 JN ¿ here comes the tractor ¿ if that rhino was awake and alert, this tractor wouldn't stand a chance, but it is not. A 1500 pound lump on the ground right now 39:40

40:45 JN ¿ laughing

41:52 JN ¿ ok, now they are bringing the lead elephant down and the specialists are getting off ¿ they are going to take some measurements ¿ (Anil ¿ NO) They are bringing the lead elephant down, a couple of people are getting off, going to poke at it ¿ slap it ¿ pull the tail, give it a kick ¿ make sure it is out. 42:19

42:28 JN ¿ next thing is to cover its eyes, put some cotton in its ears, and take some measurements, the horn, the legs, the horns, the size of the razor sharp lower incisors, used to eat grasses and wound other rhinos in fights over territories and female rhinos. Dominance. One of the vets has a hypodermic needle that is about 2 inches long. He is going to stick it in there and take some samples so they can check genetic diversity. We are going to circle around and try and get a little closer.

43:56 JN ¿ ok, they are all over the top of this guy now. Checking him out ¿ ok, here comes the tractor, through the brush ¿ clearing the path. They are going to set up a kind of a padded sled ¿ well, first they are going to dig a trench next to the rhino, then they are going to set up a little padded sled and then they are going to roll it over ¿ yeah (Anil ¿ he says something ¿ don't understand¿) sorry. (??) smacking the elephants, getting them to back up. There is a tractor. Scrapping a pathway to a truck. Pulling a sled that they are going to roll the rhino on to and then carry it back out towards the truck

45:19 JN ¿ about a dozen technicians and scientists gathered around the elephant now ¿ leaning on it, taking measurements, taking blood tests, looking at the incisors, seeing how sharp they are ¿ that is supposed to be a key to rhino dominance in the wild (tractor back-up beeps in bg).

Tractor beeps in bg

46:55 JN ¿ what a scene this is ¿ a doped up rhino laying on the ground surrounded by scientists, surrounded by on-lookers, photographers and technicians. Surrounded by elephants with more technicians and more on-lookers. Surrounded by one of the richest parks in the world. They got to clear a path through the brush here or they will never get this thing out ¿ and they don't - fortunately the rhino will stay out for as long as they want it to stay out ¿ they don't want it to be down that way for very long ¿ when they get it into the crate they give it an anecdote. 47:51 and it wakes it right up ¿ ans sometimes they aren't happy to discover they are inside a crate. (Anil ¿ talking¿) JN ¿ they are taking the measurements.

48:13 JN ¿ too many people down there¿..

49:53 JN ¿ they do this once or twice a year. They have been doing it for 15 years. And pretty much perfected it. Translocations are practiced in other parts of the world. In southern Africa in particular and sometimes they really go wrong, but here seems to have it down to a science. The rhinos rarely get away. Hardly anybody ever gets hurt. And once they get to their new home they seem to adjust pretty well. Kind of a restocking process.

50:57 JN ¿ it is hard to understate what an amazing site this is. I mean, this is one of the rarest animals in the world, one of the rarest and strangest looking ¿ one of the largest. They don't do this anywhere else in the world ¿ they don't do this ¿ the main reason is that there aren't any rhinos in most of the rest of the world. There are very few in Nepal for that matter. But in this park they have a lot of them. It is a great success story. One of the great success stories in conservation history really. 51:55

52:01 10, 30 yrs ago rhinos were poached

52:55 JN ¿ he leaves the tractor going ¿ he doesn't turn it off¿..

53:11 JN ¿ the plan is to dig a trench next to that big guy, put a big padded sled into the trench and roll the rhino over on top of it and then they tie him down and they drag him to the truck, about a quarter of a mile from here. Use a tractor to haul him out. Here they go ¿ roll him over ¿ heave hoe, he is not budging, wedging a sled under him ¿ they are going to try it again ¿ they need more people! Ok, one ¿ alright, this is amazing¿..

55:03 OK, 10 or 11 people on the back of the rhino - (asking Anil ¿ do they roll it over on its back? Or the other way? On its side ¿ Anil answers) there they go ¿ they have got him up ¿ and he is over there¿he is on the sled almost ¿.they are going to tie him on a little ¿ he is moving a little (Anil ¿ he is not dead!) he is moving ¿ he is not dead. It looks like a rescue operation, but it is not, it is a success story. It is one of the great success stories of conservation (Anil ¿ talking to John¿.)

56:55 the wheels are spinning on that tractor, they are going to give it a slightly direction ¿ yep, it sunk right down ¿ I don't think they can move it ¿ they have got to have some traction here ¿ there it goes ¿ there he goes ¿ now they are tightening the ropes, scrambling all over the top of this guy. What a crowd. What a scene. 1500 pound leviathan being dragged in the woods by a tractor. 20 or 30 specialists or on lookers, trailing behind it. It looks like a rescue operation, but it is not. It is one of the great success stories in the conservation.

58:32 JN ¿ this rhino has been shot ¿ has been darted, not bc it is injured or to be taken to a zoo, in a desperate attempt to breed it ¿ but bc there are so many rhinos in this park and they want to move them to other parks to try and build up populations there. Even better, this program seems to work. They have been doing it for 15 years here at the Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal. 59:20

59:48 JN ¿ ok, the tractor is pulling the sled through the brush and every now and then it pauses while a couple of guys with hoes run by it and try to clear the path a little more otherwise they will get stuck. And you don't want the rhino to be out for very long. You want to be able to give it the anecdote, quickly to minimize the risk that you might do some kind of damage to it for keeping it out for so long. Every now and then I can feel this elephant rumble underneath me. 1:00:28 sending out one of those sub-sonic message to the others.

1:01:06 JN ¿ the first time they tried this translocation was back in the mid 80s and ¿ the first time this translocation project was tried in the mid 80s, it was widely believed to be crazy ¿ or irresponsible, or worse. You can't move rhinos like this, is what people thought. They will get sick, they will run away, they will get hurt ¿ and that is what happened in other parts of the world when they have tried to translocate elephants. There have been lots and lots of problems. But in Nepal they have it down to a science. It works. It is a success story. It is one of the great success in conservation history actually.

1:02:09 JN ¿ the reason they are able to do this is bc here is Royal Chitwan Natl Park. (talk with Anil) They have people holding on to the edge of the sled holding on to the rope, keeping the rhino on there. Dragging the rhino out¿1:02:53 Do these rhino ever pick up and run away? (Anil ¿ you have to be very careful¿.)

1:03:25 JN ¿ ok, they are still dragging it. They always keep a vet right next to it, with one of those big 2 inch needles. Full of drugs that will knock it out again if it starts to come back. The vet is always checking the heart beat, checking the breathing..

1:04:00 JN ¿ alright, they have reached the clearing. You can see the trucks over there.

1:04:30 JN ¿ what a site. A front loader hauling a sled with a drugged rhino on top of it. 15 technicians, biologists, on top of the rhino, holding it down, checking the ropes. The vet standing by, checking the heart beat, checking the breathing. Ready with a 2 inch needle full of morphine derivative to knock it out again if it happens to wake up, which is not expected, but not unheard of. And straight ahead of us is a large wooden crate, open at booth ends.

1:05:48 JN ¿ I was thinking this was a scene right out of the movie, Jurassic Park ¿ when I look at those crates and the size of them and the size of the beasts they are about to put in them. Maybe Jurassic Park is a scene right out of Royal Chitwan.

1:06:22 JN ¿ the vet has his stethoscope on. He is checking the heart beat. They have got a blind fold over the eyes, they have cotton in the ears, the guy never knew what hit him, that rhino. He is going to wake up in a cage on his way to Bardia (pron worng). He is going to wake up in the cage on his way to Bardia (pron it right) Natl Park 1:06:41

1:06:51 JN ¿ off? (JN getting off the rhino ¿ thank you Mr. Elephant). Man, are my legs sore.

1:07:27 JN ¿ ok, the trick now

1:07:59 OK, I am walking up to the sled, I am looking at this guy. Look at those incisors.

1:08:17 JN ¿ ok, they have got it in front of the crate. They are going to give it the anecdote. The trick is to give the rhino the anecdote, get it into the crate before it wakes up. Bc sometimes they wake up grumpy. This is thick wood, it is all bolted together, and from time to time the rhinos just smash them up - but they have got it down to a science, usually it works pretty well.

1:10:33 JN ¿ this is an amazing event

INTERVIEW WITH DR. MASGEE ¿ I won't log this bc I think it will be on another DAT (recorded by Bill)

1:26:48 JN ¿ I am about 15 feet up in the air. I am just going to step on the flank and grab the rope and climb up on this little burlap mattress, and scoot up behind the mahoud, the driver, namaste, namaste means I worship the god in you, or hello. Anil Manada is the name of the man behind me.

1:28:11 JN ¿ what a scene

1:29:13 ¿ JN ¿ now I know how Lawrence of Arabia felt.

1:29:37 JN ¿ imagine these little pads

1:29:53 JN ¿ they say a good working elephant has to be obedient and has to work well in groups, and you can see why right now. I am sitting on top of an elephant. An Asian elephant, in the Royal Chitwan Natl Park in Nepal and it is part of a group of 15 other elephants that have just encircled a rhino that was darted and knocked out and being loaded on to a truck so it can be moved to another natl park. And I got to see this team worked like clock work, these elephants. Each of them has a driver called a mahoud, the drivers are armed with axes, little axes, and with the blunt end, every now and then they smack these guys on the back of their head. These elephants. But they don't seem to mind. The elephants I am sitting on are really part of a core ¿ an elite, vanishing core, Asian elephants are very rare ¿ a couple of thousands in the wild, maybe a couple of hundred ¿

JN - the guy is giving instructions to the group.


1:32:54 JN ¿ ok, 19 or 20 of these riding into formation heading back across the clearing into the woods where we are going to get another rhino ¿ knock I tout, put into a truck so it can be but into another park

1:34:00 people calling out WHEW! ¿ people whistling¿..

1:34:28 JN- they are trying to get them out of the way ¿ (other elephants carrying tourists ¿ heading right where we are going)¿..

1:35:01 JN ¿ these guys are nimble ¿ they just glide through the bushes. Rhinos eat elephant grass? (Anil¿)

1:36:22 JN ¿ Bill McQuay, the engineer on this RADIO EXPEDITIONS is on an elephant on the right flank of this line. I am in the center. Peter Breslow, the producer, is on an elephant on the left flank. We have all got microphones. We are trying to get a sense of what it is like to hear as one of these operations take place, s the elephants form a cirlce around the rhino and then close the circle First we have to find it.

1:37:31 JN- you can feel this guy's spine under my legs. Big spine.

1:38: 27 a big shout in bg

JN ¿ elephant expert screaming to some tourists to get them away ¿ not bc they don't want them, but it is a dangerous thing to be near a darting operation

1:42:06 Narenda Pradhan ¿ name of guy behind Bill ¿ he is from the Nepalese park depts

1:44:08 JN ¿ I can hear something snorting out there - yeah elephant (I think he means rhino) we are forming a broad circle.

All time in btwn here no talking

1:51:34 nine o'clock, 30 yards ¿ 15 hundred pounds covered with dust. 2 mother, and child ¿ they are huddled next to each other. They are kind of moving back and forth. They just out flanked us. There they are. Just looking right through the brush ¿ leathery tanks¿heads like looks like a Stegosaurus, even though technically they look like cows ¿ alright, we are looking for it ¿ you see it and then it just disappears.

1:54:06 there they are ¿ 2 more ¿ is that the same? Those are different ones.

1:55:13 still moving through the brush

1:55:43 Peacocks are interesting for 2 reasons. One is they are beautiful, the other one is ¿ there goes the rhino, charging away ¿ the other reason is that peacocks share territory with tigers.

1:56:36 JN ¿ there they go. You can see those little rhino bottoms disappearing into the woods ahead of us. Staying about 20 yards away.

1:58:50 JN ¿ which way did they go?

The rest of the DAT there is no talking¿..

2:04:53 JN ¿ I do feel like a king up here ¿ they had platforms though ¿ there they are right there in the brush ¿ 3 o clock ¿ 15 feet, looking right at us ¿

2:05:45 JN ¿ it is amazing to see an elephants trunk just reach up and break off a 3 foot branch ¿ alright, now we are behind them ¿ sort of circled out around them ¿ moving forward ¿ there they go.

2:06:45 JN ¿ I was wrong, those were the wrong rhinos ¿ too little ¿ you want to take a specific rhino, they send out an advance team actually , to locate the one they are looking for , the night before. Bc if you take the wrong one you are likely to mess up the family group and cause all kind of problems.

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