The Miracle Clutch: Part Three

Carefully covering the clutch with sand and placing the rocks above the covered clutch to continue their work as insulators, the three of us headed off through the jungles to rendezvous with Nandan, the boat operator of Corbett. 

The trek back was exciting with roars and growls of tigers and leopards often heard not far from us.... and the chorus of a herd of elephants added to the jungle sounds!!! 

Trekking back along the Palain was quite an experience...!!!!

The gharial population of the Palain had moved quite a distance downstream due to the low water levels near Kakdi Dhang and were about a kilometer upstream of the confluence of the Palain River with the Reservoir. It was unlikely that the nesting female gharial would be able to return to Kakdi Dhang to tend her nest and assist during the hatching. 

Meeting up with Nandan we headed back towards our base camp and continued surveying Corbett for gharial nests over the next few weeks, planning to return to Kakdi Dhang towards the beginning of June to be at the site when the eggs hatched and play "gharial parents".......little did I know how true this would be!! 

During the nesting surveys I was to find a second nest at Buxar known for it's gharial nesting grounds before the river here was replaced by the reservoir in 1974.....I was also to be greeted with the good news that the supporting organization alongwith its Project Advisor and Supervisor fearing that the hatching would fail and there would be adverse reactions from all and sundry were withdrawing support both technical and otherwise to the project......All alone and shouldered with the responsibility of seeing the project through till the end, I was to assume responsibility and face the music for the entire project knowing fully well that any failure probably meant the end to my career in the field... However, with active support of the Corbett Park Management and the Uttarakhand Forest Department I continued the surveys in Corbett. 

Monsoons hit the Reserve earlier than expected and I found myself back in Kakdi Dhang on the 10th of June to inspect the site and see if the clutch was intact......though raining a bit the temperature was 34 degrees Celsius....fearing that the rains would cause the sand embankment to slip I decided to incubate the eggs in a makeshift incubator.....after briefing the Field Director about my plan and with his approval, I returned to the site and assisted by Arjun, my helper, I designed a makeshift incubator which consisted of fruit crates!!!

A real simple design it consisted of a large fruit crate into which a smaller fruit crate was placed and the space in between was filled with straw which acted as an insulator.....reaching the site with forest staff on the 12th of June, I setup a small handycam to record the process while I uncovered the eggs......the temperature of the nest had climbed and was 36 degrees celsius.....four eggs were not viable while one had a badly ruptured egg shell leaving ten eggs for hatching, one of which had a partly peeled of egg shell but an intact membrane......these were carefully placed in the incubator and carried on foot to Halduparao which was to be our home for the next month as we incubated the eggs......

The gharial eggs inside the incubator showing cracking during the incubation process!!!!
One of the field staff very graciously gave me his room where I placed the incubator.....and as temperatures fell the forest staff gave us their cooking firewood which I used innovatively in bhattis to maintain temperatures in the room and keep the sand warm.....this was quite a task!

Placing the incubator with bhatti's filled with firewood on either side of it, I inserted a thermometer in the sand to monitor temperatures of the incubator and covered it with moist towels so that the sand would not get too dry......

Arjun incubating the eggs with wood fires in bhatti's placed at a strategic distance from the incubator!!!

Sunny days though few and far apart were always welcome and I placed the incubator in shaded sunlight whenever such opportunities arose........
Incubation under shaded sunlight on one of those rain free days.....!!!!!

(To  Be Continued.......)