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Snakes and elephants

Jackie Taylor

Jackie Taylor

Snakes and elephants

I lived on the boundary of Bardia National Park for five years and probably saw no more than a dozen snakes in that time. Rat snakes to be exact, often found in the grass roofs

A discussion arose today based on comments out of a quarantine center in Banke. The fear in the center was of snakes. Now while snakes are numerous in the plains of Nepal and yes, people do get bitten every year, there are not as many ‘sightings’ as you may suppose.

I base that on the fact I lived on the boundary of Bardia National Park for five years and probably saw no more than a dozen snakes in that time. Rat snakes to be exact, often found in the grass roofs. We once had a python on the premises. Goodness knows how it got there because they are really not known to travel far. I remember the first time I visited Bardia, I was warned by people living on the border of Chitwan National Park that the snakes in Bardia were extremely dangerous and would chase innocent people down to bite them!  Needless to say I never saw anyone being chased by a snake. In those days (1991) Bardia was pretty remote and very ‘jungly’ even to the people of Chitwan. In fact, in that first visit there was no road from the highway to the Park HQ. Just a long 15km walk through the fields. 

Far from being chased by snakes, I felt it was us who were chasing the locals. The locals were extremely shy to see us, the majority not even speaking Nepali in those days. There was no accommodation aside from Tiger Tops, so we had taken a tent along. Graciously the Park Warden allowed us to camp in the Park HQ premises. He even invited us to dinner.  Interestingly it was venison (deer meat)!

It was four years later that I went to live in Bardia. And was still not chased by snakes! Scarier however were the wild elephants. Living next door to the then King Mahendra Trust, wild elephants were attracted to the female domesticated elephants there. They were also attracted to the rice growing all around us. That first year we were pretty isolated aside from the trust and not very knowledgeable about elephant behavior.

As a result we spent a lot of time lighting fires around the boundary and chasing elephants away. There were a few sleepless but exciting nights! Over time we learned there was nothing of interest for the elephants in our compound; they were simply walking passed to the fields or female elephants next door. We also learned elephants are extremely silent walkers but loud eaters. So ultimately, after that first year, we tended not to get too excited if we heard munching nearby in the night. 

But one day we did have an incident when our guide and guest came face to face with an elephant on the road outside the park. The guest was told to leap into a ditch and out of harm’s way.  Meantime the guide, a local young man, was gouged by the elephant’s tusk.  The guest was an emergency room nurse back home so took control and we got the guide off to Nepalganj hospital. Although there was a lot of blood thankfully there was no major or lasting damage. 

When the guest returned from the hospital later that evening he completely fell apart. His professionalism had kicked in but when all was safe, his natural fright of the close encounter took over. We kept in touch and sometime later received a letter from him. On his return home, his girlfriend gifted him with an elephant head earring. “How did she know?” he commented.  As in those days of no internet he had not told her the story earlier.

So yeah, although I dislike snakes intensely, I have to say they are not hanging around to chase us. But if we are in their territory, which we are more and more these days, it might just be game on!