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Rhino rendezvous

January 2, 2009

I didn’t quite get to cuddle a tiger kitten, but we followed its daddy’s huge paw prints until we could hear him crunching bones a few trees away. We got closer and closer until… with a massive bound he leapt away deep into the forest. We were this close (my hands are hardly apart), and it was still warm where he’d been lying, with fresh blood and chewed up deer bone. Very exciting.

A couple of hours later, after following rhino prints through through the forest, we came across the triceratops himself. Oh my god, he was huge! I scrambled up a tree for a closer look and it was pretty scary: they have poor eyesight but acute hearing and he had definitely heard us. He turned and came to within 5 feet of us. I was scared for nick and Siteram, our guide, because they were on the ground. We all stood perfectly still while days and weeks passed and he recommenced stuffing his vast hoary face with leaves and branches. I ventured to take a few snaps and he heard us again. He moved closer and Nick made to run off, but then, like a souped-up truck he turned and sped off, crashing through the jungle with a bone-reverberating snort. High on adrenaline and shaky, Nick, Siteram and I continued our 10-hour trek. It was a beautiful day with wonderful sights, but nothing topped the morning adventure.

Like the Tharu people of the region, the animals of Bardiya National Park are suffering effects of climate change, directly and indirectly. The erratic monsoon season of the last few years has caused flooding and erosion to worsen and arrive at the ‘wrong’ times, and warmer temperatures have started to alter the migration patterns of many animals – those travelling from India seeking cooler climes have to go further north in the park and up the hills to find congenial temperatures, and the land availability there is limited. And they are impacted indirectly, because subsistence farmers whose crops fail turn to the forest’s resources to avoid starvation.

Of course climate change is only one part of the complex set of factors threatening the park’s animals – poaching is still widespread and the army has no resources (lacking even fuel for their patrol cars) to prevent it. A rhino horn goes for $50,000 on the open market, although the local scout who secures it will only get $200. Actually, $50,000 would do us nicely… Nick, get your gun!

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