Its a cold and rainy June afternoon and Dorai and I are tramping through the shola. The rain is coming down hard and even under the thick canopy there is no escaping the water. We wade through a stream bed and I experience a rush of gratitude for the sturdy pair of gum boots I have on.
In trying conditions, good gear can mean everything and being well equipped with the appropriate tools to withstand your environment can vastly improve working conditions and your morale .
Dorai and I have had to work physically demanding 8-hour days in a wide variety of conditions.
In the lower elevations hotter, drier conditions prevail so clothing that's light and breathable is indispensable. The sun is strong and as a result I almost always have my hat on. Other core elements of my kit include one sturdy backpack, a water bottle, a good strong pair of hiking boots, a first aid kit for the inevitable injuries tramping through unchartered jungle will bring you, a pair of binoculars, a full lunchbox , a machete for those unwieldy thorny thickets that stop even elephants and a camera for the beautiful moments.
,The vegetation and terrain on the forest floor is at times difficult to predict even with detailed maps and on occasion we have had to make our way out in little or no light. In such situations your torch is your best friend and I never leave base without one. A small bag with some nuts and other dried fruits can really help deal with tiredness in such situations. In case you know you are going to be sleeping outside a sleeping bag will ensure you get a good night’s shut eye.
The rain is also a potential disaster for any technical equipment (cameras, battery banks etc.) you might happen to have on you, hence a water proof bag cover and a good poncho or raincoat is also always good to have around (can help you improvise some shade in a sunny place) .
The kit is identical when we work in wetter conditions, with the exception of gumboots. These require a bit of breaking in with the accompanying blisters, but from then on, those boots will take you pretty much anywhere and keep your feet safe and dry.
There are also a few critters who might try to make a tasty meal out of you like ticks (more in the lower reaches) and leeches (found in staggering numbers in some wetter forests) so some salt, neem oil and whole leaf tobacco can really help keep things from getting out of hand.
Now with my GPS, compass and gear all set, the survey continues...
Humans have been surveying places for a long time. The ancient Egyptians are said to have been the first to do so , dividing land into plots for taxation. Fast forward to the present day and we can see that surveys are used for everything from road building to mineral exploration and assessing the health of an ecosystem among other things.
The survey of the KWLS that I am currently undertaking is happening in fairly wild and remote places. More often than not there are no roads/paths or trails and human contact can be very minimal, thus our ability to go into and exit the jungle safely is of paramount importance.
As mentioned in earlier posts, we follow S-shaped transects[paths] 8km in length for every grid cell. When walking these transects it is very easy to become hopelessly lost and disoriented if not for our navigational aids. In the old days these would have been maps and a compass, but today the Global positioning system [GPS] is the one stop shop for all things navigational.
On this project, I’m using the Garmin Etrex 20, a small but rugged device that thrives in the difficult conditions a survey can throw your way. It works by receiving signals directly from multiple satellites allowing me to more accurately pinpoint my location and it works well on clear days and on more open ground. It, however, is somewhat less accurate on cloudy days and under thick forest cover. This is when a compass really comes to the rescue and is an invaluable part of one’s navigation arsenal
The GPS allows me to mark Waypoints [or specific locations with their lat-long coordinates] whenever I see any signs of animal activity [dung, tracks and direct sightings] . It also records the exact path or Track that I take . This allows me to return the way I came, if no other route is possible [ a feature that has probably saved our lives on multiple occasions].
The waypoints I mark on the GPS are also recorded on my data sheets which are designed to log the Waypoints in an organised way . This will make the job of data analysis
[making sense of the findings] easier.
Now with maps and navigation in check we have to just get one last thing in order. Stay tuned for more …
1. Dhruv Athreye in February 2018 began a survey of mammals in the Palani Hills and is publishing notes of his field work.