As sunshine filters through the trees, a peacock shakes off his morning slumber and langurs shriek as they hop across trees... that’s how morning unfolds inside the jungle through the eyes of Banti , a 60-year-old elephant.
“Why are elephants entering human habitations looking for food? Why are streams inside forests drying up? What has triggered the man-animal conflict?,” asks author H Byju as he explains why he set out to write his recently released book, Matriarch – Autobiography of An Elephant ( Neythal Pathipakam). Byju, an independent researcher, conservationist, and photographer, wrote a passionate account on why vultures are indispensable to bio-diversity in his first book Valley of Hope — Moyar and Vultures (Don Books).
“During trekking expeditions at Moyar Valley gorge while tracking nesting of vultures, I encountered elephants twice,” he says, adding that they once saved an elephant stuck in slush. “After two decades inside the forest, I have enough scientific data and wanted to reach out to people by giving a voice to the wild animal itself.”
The story celebrates the close-knit bonds they share. It explores the mother-calf relationship, the way the animals communicate by touching their trunks and high-pitched trumpet calls. He also highlights issues such as poaching and development, which have usurped their traditional pathways.
“Invasive species like lantana and parthenium have occupied 40 % of forest cover in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve and pose a grave threat to food availability as elephants are mega herbivores. Now, we know why they enter agricultural fields looking for sugarcane and millets. There is no grass out there to feed on,” says Byju
The author says of the over 100 migratory elephant pathways across India, South India alone has about 35. “While in places like Jharkhand, mining has encroached the pathway, in Karnataka and West Bengal railway lines bifurcate the forest obstructing the natural path,” he says, explaining that annually elephants migrate 500 kilometres. “It is elephants that construct natural forests as they disperse seeds across long distances. In a life span of 60 to 65 years, they also bring offspring from a wide gene pool of males.”
It’s always an aged matriarch that leads the herd as they walk 10 to 15 kms every day in search of food, water or just to avoid the blazing heat. “They know the pathways inside the forest that lead to water and food resources. Tigers and deers just follow the path to reach the watering hole. The elephant dung alone supports 50 different species of beetles, bugs, and bacteria and fungi to flourish.” Byju reiterates that conservation plans should involve all the stakeholders, especially tribals. Byju, who has written eight research papers on vultures and shorebirds, promises to persevere on his mission till the last person realises the need for conservation. He adds, “I want people to understand the elephant’s perspective. When we invade their space, they protest, move away, and attack.”
The book is available on Amazon. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org