Blame it on climate change or animal determination, a four-year old tusker has climbed all the way up a snow mountain at 3,419 meters above sea level in Chukha, Bhutan, posing serious questions to conservationists on how this tusker, usually seen in tropical areas, scaled this height.
This ‘transient solitary elephant’ as the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD) called him, has achieved a world record among Asiatic elephants, to have reached this height. He was no mountaineering human; otherwise this adventurer would have erected an animal kingdom flag at the summit of Shougay La which can be seen from Gedu along the Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway.
Forest officials in Gedu made several attempts to chase the elephant back from Ketokha and Damji villages, at an elevation of 2500 meters, but this determined tusker kept climbing till he scaled the Everest of Elephants.
It was the telecom microwave caretaker, Tashi Dawa, who was first alerted of the elephant’s presence at the height by his dogs. It was around 9am on February 2. He walked out of his cottage and found the tusker by his barbed wire fence.
Tashi Dawa passed on the information to the authorities and a team comprising of officials from WCD and Gedu Forest Division trekked to Shougay La to validate the presence of the animal.
Tashi Dawa did not want to chase away the elephant, but his dogs made several attempts to chase away the giant intruder into their territory.” But he was calm, looking serenely at the dogs,” said Tashi Dawa.
The tusker lost his cool when he became hungry. He walked up and down the snow but found nothing. Then after around five hours he descended to 3,000 meters where he found some green bamboo to which he sought a liking and stayed there for six days.
“We used e-treks vista GPS track option to record the movement of the elephant following the foot print in the snow,” forestry officer Ugyen Namgyel said. They followed the movement of the elephant passing through bamboo thickets and icy snow.
If it was not for the bamboo and the time he took for acclimatization, life would have been difficult for the elephant that descended back to warmer areas toward south-west along the Bhutan-India border.
The elephant also made a brief appearance at Chungneykha village in Phuentsholing hunting food.
“We have to look into the monitoring aspect about what caused him to move up this elevation since elephants are subtropical species, confined to lower elevation,” the chief forestry officer, Sonam Wangchuk said.
The Gedu Forest Division is keeing a close vigil on the elephant to understand its behavior and to see if all is well with the gentle giant.