Nagarhole National Park title graphic
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Asian elephants
Baby elephant
Gaur
Sambar deer
Spotted deer
Wild boar
Langur monkeys
Giant squirrels
Palm squirrel
Hoopoe
Indian roller
Indian peafowl
List of mammals
Nagarhole National Park (known officially as Rajiv Gandhi National Park) is located in the state of Karnataka in southern India. It was established in 1955 and covers 643 square kilometres, but is adjacent to Bandipur and Mudumalai National Parks and the Wynad Wild Life Sanctuary. Together, these and other protected areas form the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve which measures over 5,500 square kilometres in total. Nagarhole is one of the Asian elephant's last strongholds in India and these animals were the main focus of my visit. The Park also supports tigers, leopards, dholes (Indian wild dogs) and sloth bears, but these species all proved elusive. (For some tiger photos, please go to my Google Photos album for Bandhavgarh National Park which I visited in 2004).

In 1974 the Kabini River, which runs between Nagarhole and Bandipur, was dammed as part of an irrigation project. Although many trees were felled to construct the dam, the project created a large lake surrounded by a band of grassland which now attracts many grazing animals including the elephants. They come to eat, drink and bathe, and are sometimes shadowed by predator species. The tourist lodges at Nagarhole therefore offer boat trips as an alternative way to view the wildlife, but for me jeep rides are still the best.
Asian elephants

Asian elephants are smaller than their African cousins, but no less impressive. They are still found in several southeast Asian countries but in small, highly-fragmented populations (numbers are estimated at 37,000 to 57,000 in total) so the species is classified as Endangered.
Usually, only the bull elephants have tusks, so poaching for ivory has had a devastating effect on gender ratios which poses an additional threat to the species' recovery - in Periyar Tiger Reserve for example, poaching has left only one male to each 100 females. Some bulls, known as makhnas, do not develop tusks. They are becoming more common (especially in Sri Lanka) because they escape the attention of poachers.
Asian elephant
Asian elephant bull Asian elephant bull
Asian elephant bull
In the dry season when the grass is short, the elephants have to loosen what little remains by digging-up the ground with their front feet. They then brush the grass against their front legs to dust-off the worst of the soil. Some animals also go into the water and pull up vegetation growing on the bottom of the lake. They then wash the soil off the roots in the water.
Asian elephant feeding Asian elephant feeding
Asian elephant in lake Asian elephant in lake
Elephants tend to develop regular routines and routes for feeding, bathing and so on. As long as these are not disrupted by humans, the animals are relatively easy to find in Nagarhole. This spot by the lake was a favourite place for the elephants to gather in the evening.
Asian elephant group
 Asian elephant group
Asian elephant group
Asian elephants at sunset
Baby elephant

On our last jeep drive in the forest, we were lucky enough to encounter this family with a mischievous baby. Our guide estimated it was only a few days old. Even so, Asian elephants weigh around 100kg (220 pounds) at birth, and when not sleeping or feeding the baby was already throwing its weight around. A second female was never far away from the youngster, so I assume this was a grown-up sister or aunt.

Asian elephants with sleeping baby
Asian elephants with feeding baby Asian elephant mother and baby
Asian elephant baby
Asian elephant baby rubbing

Gaur

Another 'star attraction' at Nagarhole is the huge gaur. Like the nilgai, this forest species is related to buffalo, bison and our domestic cattle
. The bulls are enormous - 2 metres (over 6 feet) at the shoulder, and weighing-in at around 1200kg (over 2,600 pounds). To settle disputes without resorting to fights, the bulls arch their backs to make themselves look even bigger in profile. Not surprisingly, gaur show little fear of people and vehicles. The species is found in several southeast Asian countries, and although global numbers are estimated at only 13,000 to 30,000, populations are not too fragmented so the gaur is classified only as Vulnerable.
Gaur
Gaur Gaur
Gaur
Gaur

Sambar deer

The sambar at Nagarhole were sometimes accompanied by mynah birds that seemed to be picking small insects from the deer's
thick coats. The birds hitched a ride with the sambar wherever they went.
Sambar stag
Sambar stag and mynah bird

Spotted deer
Wild boar

Wild boar are the ancestors of domestic pigs. They are common in many Asian and European countries, and have been introduced in other parts of the world. Although wild boar can be quite dangerous and have seriously injured or even killed people, they are usually quite wary and skittish. However this animal, encountered at dusk one evening, was quite bold and stood its ground long enough for a photograph.


Wild boar

Hanuman langur monkeys

Langur monkeys are vegetarian and need to spend quite a lot of time foraging. However, they still seem to have plenty of time for grooming, playing and otherwise socialising. The groups at Nagarhole were noticeably larger than those we saw in the Gir Forest and seemed even more tolerant of us and our jeeps. Even the mothers with babies allowed us to get very close.
Hanuman langur monkeys
Hanuman langur monkey Hanuman langur monkey
Hanuman langur monkey
Hanuman langur mother and baby Hanuman langur mother and baby
Hanuman langur monkey baby
Indian giant squirrel

On most wildlife-watching trips, you usually encounter at least one species that you didn't really expect to see and/or which you find unexpectedly appealing. On this trip, that was the Indian giant squirrel for me. Another speciality at Nagarhole, this species lives high in the forest canopy and rarely comes down to the ground, so it is quite difficult to photograph.

Giant squirrels are a metre (39 inches) long, more than half of which is accounted for by their huge, bushy tail. They are incredibly agile as they leap through the treetops using their tails to balance. The species is found only in India and is classified as Vulnerable, being threatened by the loss of its forest habitat as well as by hunting for its meat, skin and as a medicinal ingredient. As well as amazing tails, giant squirrels have tufted ears that look like paint brushes.

Indian giant squirrel
Indian giant squirrel
Indian palm squirrel

A complete contrast to the giant squirrel, these animals are only around 15cm (6 inches) long, frequently come down to the ground, and are a common sight around tourist lodges and other human settlements. This animal was scavenging crumbs near the restaurant at our lodge.
Indian palm squirrel

Eurasian hoopoe

Although the main emphasis of my trip was (as always) mammals, Nagarhole is a great reserve for easy bird-watching. The hoopoe is a relative of the kingfishers, and although it has a wide distribution throughout Europe and Asia, we rarely see hoopoes in England - they only occur there as passing migrants. In Nagarhole they were a common sight, either perched in the trees or hunting for invertebrates on the ground.
Eurasian hoopoe
Eurasian hoopoe
Indian roller or blue jay

The Indian roller or blue jay is the official state bird of Karnataka. Rollers are also related to kingfishers. They are often seen perched on tree stumps like this one, looking out for large insects, lizards and frogs to eat. Their colourful plumage is even more spectacular when they fly, revealing broad bars of electric blue on the top of the wings, but despite several attempts I wasn't quick enough to catch the moment of flight!
Indian roller or blue jay

Indian blue peafowl

The peacock is the national bird of India, and these birds are a common sight in forests and scrub in most parts of the country. It was too early in the year for the males to be displaying their tails, but this bird still looked impressive as he strutted around near the lake.
Indian blue peacock

Full list of mammals seen at Nagarhole National Park:

Asian elephant
Gaur
Spotted deer
Sambar deer
Common muntjac or barking deer
Wild boar
Indian
 giant squirrel
Indian
palm squirrel

Hanuman langur monkey
Bonnet macaque
Indian grey mongoose
Flying fox (fruit bat)

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Last updated 20 June 2018