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Chitwan- gharial spotting

into the wetlands and along the river


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October 4th Chitwan, Nepal

We got up bright and early, as requested, for a quick bite to eat at 6.30 am, before we took a short jeep ride down to Rapati (East Rapti) river.
Chitwan Royal National Park in the Terai subtropical lowlands is a premier attraction in Nepal, and little damaged in the 2015 quake. The World Heritage listed reserve protects 932km2 of forests, marshland, and grassland; home to sizeable wildlife populations. Meaning ‘Heart of the Jungle’, Chitwan is one of the best in Asia, and you have an excellent chance of spotting one-horned rhinos, deer, gharial, monkeys, up to 544 species of birds, Royal Bengal tigers, leopards, wild elephants and sloth bears. Sadly, Chitwan lost many animals during the decade-long Maoist insurgency, when the army were unable to provide adequate protection from poachers. However, recent census figures show rhino and tiger numbers steadily increasing. Sauraha has a lively backpacker scene, and it's a great place to have a beer watching the sunset over Rapti river.
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At the river our wooden dug out canoes were waiting. These skiffs were clearly made of single trunks, and had little clearance underneath as the river is not deep. A platform had been created at each end for the owner to stand and punt along. We were lucky to be paired up with a young British couple who were keen to do the same as us that day; ie. a canoe ride followed by a full day jungle trek.
Rapati river is a moderate width and fairly fast moving with lots of sedge, grass and mud banks at the edge, with light to moderate jungle behind. Because of this it was a great place to spot loads of wildlife, from tiny flitting birds to huge sunbathing crocodiles and everything in between.
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The East Rapti River flows from east to west through the Chitwan Valley in Nepal, forming the northern border of the Chitwan National Park. It joins the Narayani River inside the protected area. Ultimately it joins the Ganges, so is part of the “sacred river” complex, although the Tharu are not a particularly religious people. We noticed the lack of temples whilst we were there, and our guide said that the Tharu mainly liked to live in harmony with nature, so they were sort of nature-animist-Hindu-Buddhist mix (with a bit of Islam and Christianity thrown in!)

As you would expect, given that it was dawn, the first few animals we came across were birds. We saw lapwings, herons, storks and plovers begin their feeding on the banks and in the shallows first.
The Eastern great egret (Ardea alba modesta), a white heron in the genus Ardea, is usually considered a subspecies of the great egret. The diet includes vertebrates such as fish, frogs, small reptiles and birds, rodents and invertebrates like insects, crustaceans and molluscs. The eastern great egret hunts by wading or standing still in shallow water and spearing prey with its bill. The eastern great egret often breeds in colonies with other herons, egrets, cormorants, spoonbills and ibises.
Storks are large, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long, stout bills. They belong to the family called Ciconiidae. Ciconiiformes previously included herons and ibises, but these have been moved. Bill-clattering is an important mode of communication at the nest. Many species are migratory. Most storks eat frogs, fish, insects, earthworms, small birds and small mammals. Various terms are used to refer to groups of storks, eg muster and phalanx of storks.Storks are heavy, with wide wingspans. Their nests are very large and may be used for many years. Some nests have been known to grow to over 2 m in diameter and about 3 m in depth. Storks were once thought to be monogamous, but this is only partially true. They may change mates after migrations. Storks’ size, monogamy, and faithfulness to an established nesting site contribute to their prominence in mythology and culture. The lesser adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus) has a bare neck and head. It is closely associated with wetland habitats where it is solitary and may scavenge. Location of prey appears to be entirely visual, with one observation of storks sitting on telegraph poles apparently scanning a marsh for prey. They are largely silent but clatter their bill, hiss and moan at the nest. A threat display called "Arching" is given in the presence of intruders; adults extend their neck and give a hoarse wail. Courtship behaviour of the lesser adjutant is identical to other species of the genus. During pair formation, female birds lift their heads in a scooping motion with bill-clattering (Balancing Posture).
The Red-wattled lapwing (Vanellus indicus) is an Asian lapwing or large plover, a wader in the family Charadriidae. Like other lapwings they are ground birds incapable of perching. Their characteristic loud alarm calls are indicators of human or animal movements. Usually seen in pairs or small groups close to water. They sometimes form large aggregations in the non-breeding season (winter). They nest in a ground scrape laying three to four camouflaged eggs. Adults near the nest fly around, diving at potential predators while calling noisily. The cryptically patterned chicks hatch and immediately follow their parents to feed, hiding by lying low on the ground or in the grass when threatened. The River lapwing (Vanellus duvaucelii) is a lapwing species which breeds from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Southeast Asia. It appears to be entirely sedentary. The Little ringed plover (Charadrius dubius) is a small plover. The genus name Charadrius is a Late Latin word for a yellowish bird mentioned in the fourth-century Vulgate. It derives from Ancient Greek kharadrios a bird found in river valleys.
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1.Egret,peacock,plover; 2.River Lapwing; 3.Red wattled Lapwing
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1.White Stork 2.Little ringed Plover 3.Lesser adjutant Stork
Shortly after our guide excitedly pointed out a very rare bird on the banks, a chestnut-breasted partridge (Arborophila mandellii). This is a species of partridge endemic to the eastern Himalayas north of the Brahmaputra, and is known from Bhutan, Sikkim, north India, Nepal and south-east Tibet. It is a distinctive partridge with chestnut breast-band and grey belly.
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It is distinguished from the similar rufous-throated partridge A. rufogularis by more rufescent crown and head-sides, white gorget and entirely chestnut upper breast. This bird has been classified as Vulnerable, with an estimated population of less than 10,000. It is threatened by forest degradation, which is fragmenting the population, and by hunting.
It wasn’t long before we started coming across the first of quite a few Mugger Crocodiles, all very inactive so early in the morning. Some were early morning sunbathing on the bank, whilst others were still keeping warm half-submerged in the river. The Mugger or Marsh crocodile (Crocodylus palustris), aka broad-snouted crocodile is a crocodilian native to freshwater habitats from southern Iran to the Indian subcontinent, though now extinct in Bhutan. It has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. It is a medium-sized crocodile that inhabits lakes, rivers, and marshes. Both young and adult mugger crocodiles dig burrows where they retreat when temperatures drop below 5 °C or exceeds 38 °C. Females dig holes in the sand as nesting sites and lay up to 46 eggs. The sex of the hatchlings depends on the temperature during incubation. It preys on fish, reptiles, large insects, birds and mammals. It is one of three crocodilians in India/Nepal, the others being the saltwater crocodile (C. porosus) and gharial (Gavialis gangeticus). The mugger is a medium-sized crocodilian, but has the broadest snout among crocodilians, a powerful tail and webbed feet. Its visual, auditory and olfactory senses are acute. Adult females are 2 m on average, and males up to 3.5 m. Mugger crocodiles have been documented using lures to hunt birds; the first reptiles recorded to use tools. By balancing sticks and branches on their heads, they lure birds that are looking for nesting material. This strategy is particularly effective during the nesting season.
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Mugger crocodile in the water (blue dragonfly to the right); Mugger crocodile on land

Interestingly, we saw all four local kingfishers; White-throated; Stork-billed; Ruddy and Common kingfisher.
Kingfishers (Alcedinidae) are a family of small to medium-sized, brightly coloured birds in the order Coraciiformes. They have a cosmopolitan distribution, with most species found in tropical regions. The family contains 114 species. All kingfishers have large heads, long, sharp, pointed bills, short legs, and stubby tails. Most species have bright plumage with only small differences between the sexes. Most species are tropical in distribution, and a slight majority e of prey usually caught by swooping down from a perch. While kingfishers are usually thought to live near rivers and eat fish, many species live away from water and eat small invertebrates. They nest in cavities, usually tunnels dug into the natural or artificial banks in the ground. Some kingfishers nest in arboreal termite nests. In Britain, the word "kingfisher" normally refers to the common kingfisher.
The plumage of most kingfishers is bright, with green and blue being the most common colours. The bright colours are not the product of iridescence or pigments, but is caused by the structure of the feathers, which causes scattering of blue light (Tyndall effect). Kingfishers have long, dagger-like bills. The bill is usually longer and more compressed in species that hunt fish, and shorter and more broad in species that hunt prey off the ground.
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White-throated; Stork-billed; Ruddy; Common kingfisher.
They generally have short legs, although species that feed on the ground have longer tarsi. Most species have four toes, three of which are forward-pointing. The irises of most species are dark brown. The kingfishers have excellent vision; they are capable of binocular vision and are thought in particular to have good colour vision. They have restricted movement of their eyes within the eye sockets, instead using head movements to track prey. In addition, they are capable of compensating for the refraction of water and reflection when hunting prey underwater, and are able to judge depth under water accurately. They also have nictitating membranes that cover the eyes to protect them when they hit the water; the pied kingfisher has a bony plate which slides across the eye when it hits the water.

Soon after the river became quicker and the jungle closer. Some movement on the left bank attracted our eyes, and we saw it was a Rhesus Macaque monkey troupe with young ones out playing. Rhesus macaques are native through much of Asia; the widest geographic ranges of any nonhuman primate. Rhesus macaques may be found in grasslands, woodlands, and mountainous regions up to 2,500 m. They are regular swimmers. Babies as young as a few days old can swim, and adults can swim over half a mile Rhesus macaques are noted for their tendency to move from rural to urban areas, coming to rely on handouts or refuse from humans. Rhesus macaques are diurnal, and both arboreal and terrestrial. They are quadrupedal and, when on the ground, walk digitigrade and plantigrade. They are mostly herbivorous, feeding mainly on fruit, but also eating seeds, roots, buds, bark, and cereals. They have also been observed eating termites, grasshoppers, ants, and beetles. Rhesus macaques have specialized pouch-like cheeks, allowing them to temporarily hoard their food. In research, rhesus macaques have demonstrated a variety of complex cognitive abilities, including the ability to make same-different judgments, understand simple rules, and monitor their own mental states. They have been shown to demonstrate self-agency, an important type of self- awareness. In 2014, onlookers at a train station in Kanpur, India, documented a rhesus monkey, knocked unconscious by overhead power lines, that was revived by another rhesus that systematically administered a series of resuscitative actions. The chimpanzee and human genome diverged 6 million years ago, with 98% gene convergence. Comparing the macaque and human genomes, which diverged 25 million years ago, only 93% are the same. Surprisingly, some normal gene sequences in healthy macaques and chimpanzees cause disease in humans. For example, the normal sequence of phenylalanine hydroxylase in macaques and chimpanzees is the mutated sequence responsible for phenylketonuria in humans. So, humans must have been under evolutionary pressure to adopt a different mechanism.
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Mother and teenaged macaque; snake under log; Pied Starling pair
The pied myna or Asian pied starling (Gracupica contra) is a species of starling found in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. They are usually found in small groups mainly on the plains and low foothills. They are often seen within cities and villages although they are not as bold as the common myna. They produce a range of calls made up of liquid notes. Several slight plumage variations exist in the populations and about five subspecies are named. This myna is strikingly marked in black and white and has a yellowish bill with a reddish bill base. The bare skin around the eye is reddish. The upper body, throat and breast are black while the cheek, lores, wing coverts and rump are contrastingly white. The sexes are similar in plumage but young birds have dark brown in place of black. The subspecies vary slightly in plumage, extent of streaking of the feathers and in measurements. An instance of interspecific feeding, where an adult of a common myna fed a young pied myna has been reported. These mynas form communal roosts at night and jointly defend nesting area. The ability of mynas to mimic human voices made them popular as pets.
The snake was very difficult to identify, as we could only see the smooth mid section scales; my best guess is a Rat Snake (Ptyas mucosa), although it could have been a Spectacled Cobra (Naja naja), a Red-necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus), or even a Siebold’s water snake (Enhydris sieboldii) although the last two are less probable. All of them are common in Chitwan, all are happy in and around water and all grow to a good size. Judging by the mid section we saw, this specimen must have been a good metre+ in length!
Ptyas mucosa, commonly the oriental or Indian rat snake, darash or dhaman, is a common species of colubrid snake found in Asia. Dhamans are large snakes, growing to 2 m and occasionally even to 3 m. Their colour varies from pale to dark brown. Dhamans are diurnal, semi-arboreal, non-venomous, and fast-moving. Dhamans eat a variety of prey and are happy by water. They inhabit forest floors, wetlands, rice paddies, farmland, and suburban areas where they prey upon small reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. Adults, unusually for a colubrid, prefer to subdue their prey by sitting on it rather than by constricting, using body weight to weaken prey.
The Indian cobra (Naja naja) aka spectacled, Asian, or binocellate cobra is found in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan, and a member of the "big four" species that inflict the most snakebites on humans. It is distinct from the king cobra which belongs to the monotypic genus Ophiophagus. The Indian cobra is revered in Indian mythology and culture, and is often seen with snake charmers. The Indian cobra is a moderately sized, heavy bodied species easily identifiable by its relatively large and impressive hood, which it expands when threatened. The majority of adult specimens range from 1 to 1.5 m, although lengths of 2.2 m have been recorded. The dorsal scales are smooth and strongly oblique. Rhabdophis subminiatus, commonly the red-necked keelback, is a highly venomous snake in the family Colubridae. It grows to 90 cm in total length and lives near ponds, where it consumes frogs and fish. Rhabdophis subminiatus is a rear-fanged species and was previously thought to be harmless. However, the toxicity of its venom has recently been reclassified as a dangerous. Rear-fanged snakes need to bite and hold on, or repeatedly bite, to have any effect on humans. A chewing action facilitates envenomation as the venom ducts open to fangs that are externally grooved (not hollow). R. subminiatus has two enlarged teeth in the back of the snake’s jaw. Located in the upper jaw is a gland known as the Duvernoy's glands which produces an extremely venomous secretion. When the snake bites, the salivary venom mixture is not injected, but flows into the punctures produced by the upper rear teeth, which can penetrate human skin. The venom can cause internal hemorrhaging, including of the brain. Although most human bites from R. subminiatus involve the front teeth and do not cause adverse effects, rare bites from the rear fangs can be lethal. Siebold's water snake (Ferania sieboldii ) is a species of mildly venomous, rear-fanged, Homalopsidae snakes that lives in water.
Finally we came to a landing stage and after tipping the boatman, we disembarked to the jungle, ready for a nice trek. Everyone else had decided not to do a trek, but us 4 were keen, and with only a few steps we were in the jungle.

Sal forest in Chitwan The Himalayan subtropical broadleaf forest is an ecoregion that extends from the middle hills of central Nepal into Bhutan and Uttar Pradesh. It represents the east-west band of forest at an altitude between 500-1,000 m along the Outer Himalayan Range, and includes several forest types traversing an east to west moisture gradient. The ecoregion covers an area of 38,200 km2 and is bisected by the Kali Gandaki River, which has gouged the world's deepest river valley through the Himalayan Range. It forms a critical link in the chain of interconnected Himalayan ecosystems, where altitudinal connectivity between the habitat types is important for ecosystem function. The soil is composed of alluvium deposited over the ages by the rivers that drain this young mountain range. At lower elevations, the ecoregion is flanked by the Terai-Duar savannas and grasslands. Above 1,000 m it yields to the Himalayan subtropical pine forests. Rainfall varies from east to west, but annual rainfall can be as high as 2,000 mm. The Himalayas capture moisture from the monsoons in the Bay of Bengal, and most of this rainfall is expended in the eastern Himalayas. Eight protected areas extend into this ecoregion covering 2,710 km2 (7% of the area).
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! Nepal: Chitwan National Park, Parsa National Park, Bardia National Park
! Bhutan: Royal Manas National Park, Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary, Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary.
The ecoregion hosts a broad range of plant communities, based on its complex topography, differing soils, and variations in rainfall from the dry west to the humid east. Its location on the south slope of the Himalaya allows the intermingling of plants and animals from the Indomalayan and Palearctic ecozones. The main forest types include Dodonaea scrub, subtropical dry evergreen forests of Olea cuspidata, northern dry mixed deciduous forests, dry Siwalik sal (Shorea robusta) forests, moist mixed deciduous forests, subtropical broadleaf wet hill forests, northern tropical semi-evergreen forests, and northern tropical wet evergreen forests. Several mammals native to the ecoregion are threatened, including the Bengal tiger, Indian elephant, smooth-coated otter, clouded leopard, Indian Grey mongoose, gaur, Himalayan serow, Irrawaddy squirrel, and parti-coloured flying squirrel. The bird fauna is very rich with more than 340 species.

Saccharum spontaneum (wild sugarcane, Kans grass, kash, translit. kahuwa, khagori) is a grass native to the Indian Subcontinent. It is a perennial, growing up to 3m high, with spreading rhizomatous roots. In the Terai-Duar savanna and grasslands, a lowland ecoregion at the base of the Himalayan range in Nepal, India and Bhutan, kans grass quickly colonises exposed silt plains created each year by the retreating monsoon floods, forming stands on the lowest portions of the floodplain. Kans grasslands are an important habitat for the Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis). In Nepal, it is harvested to thatch roofs or fence vegetable gardens.
Rhynchostylis retusa (foxtail orchid) is an exotic blooming orchid. The flower is a pendant raceme, consisting of more than 100 pink- spotted white flowers. The plant has a short, creeping stem carrying up to 12, curved, fleshy, deeply channeled, keeled leaves and blooms on an axillary pendant to 60 cm long, densely flowered, cylindrical inflorescence that occurs in the winter/ early spring. It is famous for its use as an hair ornament worn by Assamese women during the spring Bihu folk dance. The plant is an epiphyte growing on tree trunks in open forests or forest margins at 300–1,500m in Bhutan, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal and Vietnam. Due to bio-piracy, the plant is on the verge of extinction in India. Rhychostylis retusa is the state flower of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
Rhynchostylis, an Orchid species of frequent occurrence is used in various preparations against asthma, tuberculosis, 'nervous twitchings' (possibly tic disorder), cramp, epileptic spasms, vertigo, palpitations, kidney stones and menstrual disorder. The plant has been used to treat wounds, cuts and bruises, as well as an emollient in India and Nepal. Under the name rasna the root is used to treat rheumatism in India.
Gastrodia elata is a saprophytic perennial herb in the Orchidaceae family. It is found in Nepal, Bhutan, Japan, North Korea, Siberia, Mongolia and Tibet at elevations of 3,200m at the edge of forest. The herb is used in Traditional Chinese medicine and is one of the three orchids listed in the earliest known Chinese Materia Medica (c. 100 AD). Medicinally, it is used for 'calming the liver' and for treating headaches, dizziness, tetanus, and epilepsy.

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It was remarkably quiet in the forest, as it was now mid morning and many of the birds were sleeping. We spotted a huge termite mound, some 2+ metres tall, up against a tree. Termites are eusocial insects that are classified as Isoptera, or as epifamily Termitoidae within the cockroach order Blattodea. Termites were once classified in a separate order from cockroaches, but recent studies indicate that they evolved from close ancestors of cockroaches during the Jurassic or Triassic. However, the first termites possibly emerged during the Permian or even the Carboniferous. About 3,106 species are currently described, with a few hundred more left to be described. Although these insects are often called "white ants", they are not ants. Like ants and some bees and wasps, termites divide labour among castes consisting of sterile male and female "workers" and "soldiers". All colonies have fertile males called "kings" and one or more fertile females called "queens". Termites mostly feed on dead plant material and cellulose, generally in the form of wood, leaf litter, soil, or animal dung. Termites are major detritivores, particularly in the subtropical and tropical regions, and their recycling of wood and plant matter is of considerable ecological importance. Their colonies range in size from a few hundred to several million individuals. Termite queens have the longest lifespan of any insect in the world, with some queens reportedly living up to 30 to 50 years. Unlike ants, which undergo a complete metamorphosis, each individual termite goes through an incomplete metamorphosis that proceeds through egg, nymph, and adult stages. Colonies are described as superorganisms because the termites form part of a self-regulating entity: the colony itself. Termites are a delicacy in the diet of some human cultures and are used in many traditional medicines. Several hundred species are economically significant as pests that can cause serious damage to buildings, crops, or plantation forests.
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Further on our guide stopped to show us a large rhino dung midden, with fungi growing from it. Apparently rhinos like to use the same loo
repeatedly (not just one individual, but all the rhinos in the area). The reason for this seems to be partly for communication (rhinos can tell a lot about the nearby rhinos from their dung) and partly for pest control (more sanitary). As we proceeded we came to a fork in the paths. “Which way?” asked our guide, “towards the rhinos or towards the tigers?” Now we thought this was a joke and decided to choose ‘tigers”; a joke belied not more than 10 minutes later when he pointed out a deep and recent very large pawprint. “Ah, yes...but rhinos are dangerous too,” was his justification. This turned out to be apocryphal as we later discovered that the same day the chief guide had been run through with a rhino’s horn and was critical in hospital. He was fine in the end, but it shows even people knowledgeable about the wildlife can be surprised. We detoured down several paths, some with grass taller than us, to find large ponds, swamps and rank waterholes, which is where rhinos like to spend the day half submerged. S (in particular) ended up with some mammoth (mainly through his blood) leeches. Sadly, no luck on the rhinos and after a few hours of this we stopped for a very nice lunch (provided) in a more open area with a convenient log.
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Some leeches smelled us and it was fascinating watching them rear up to smell us or actually to sense our heat, then crawl towards us. We decided not to let them on us! Leeches are segmented parasitic or predatory worms in the phylum Annelida and subclass Hirudinea. They are closely related to the oligochaetes, which include earthworms, and like them have soft, muscular, segmented bodies that can lengthen and contract. Both groups are hermaphrodites, but leeches typically have suckers at both ends. The body is relatively solid, and the spacious body cavity found in other annelids, the coelom, is reduced to small channels. The majority of leeches live in freshwater environments. The best-known are hematophagous, attaching themselves to a host with a sucker and feeding on blood, having first secreted the peptide hirudin to prevent the blood from clotting. Behind us was a very large ficus (strangler fig), either a ficus benghalensis (banyan) or ficus virens, which had pretty much killed the host tree.
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Bengal tiger tracks, lunch in the jungle; strangler fig, rhino water hole
After another hour or so we came across a hide by the riverbank, and decided on a brief rest, then off again into the sandy part of the jungle, where we came across a pretty (large) red insect and a fat toad, the Kaloula taprobanica. This toad, the Sri Lankan painted frog/ bullfrog or just painted frog is a common species of narrow-mouthed frog, some 75mm long, found in Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka up to 1,300 m. It is a fossorial species, spending the day buried in the leaf litter, loose soil or under fallen logs, but can also climb into the branches of trees. It prefers dry forests, coconut and rubber plantations, wetlands, and rice fields. The red insect turned out to be a Red Cotton Bug or Stainer (Dysdercus) in the family Pyrrhocoridae.
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They can be readily distinguished from most other genera of Pyrrhocoridae by the strong white markings at the junction of the head and thorax, and along the sides of the thorax, and often abdomen.

Then, back down through the grasses (where we got a bit lost) and finally found the river bank again. Opposite we were lucky to see a gharial sunning herself on the sandy bank.
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Gharial The gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), also known as the gavial, and fish-eating crocodile is a crocodilian in the family Gavialidae, and is native to the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. The global wild gharial population is estimated at fewer than 235 individuals, which are threatened by loss of riverine habitat, depletion of fish resources, and entanglement in fishing nets. As the population has declined drastically since the 1930s, the gharial is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. It once inhabited all the major river systems of the Indian subcontinent, from the Indus River in the west to the Irrawaddy River in the east. Its distribution is now limited to only 2% of its historical range. It inhabit foremost flowing rivers with high sandbanks that it uses for basking and building nests. Adults mate in the cold season. The young hatch before the onset of the monsoon. The gharial is one of the longest of all living crocodilians, with a body length of 350-450 cms. Male gharials reach a body length of up to 600 cm and have a distinctive boss at the end of the snout, which resembles an earthenware pot known in Hindi as as ghara. The gharial's common name is derived from this similarity. With 110 sharp interdigitated teeth in a long thin snout, it is well adapted to catching its main prey, fish. The gharial’s body is yellowish-white, its neck long and thick. There are 2 rows of ridges down its back. Male gharials develop a hollow bulbous nasal protuberance at the tip of the snout at maturity; it starts growing around age 11/12 and reaches 5x6.3.5 cm at an age of 15.5 years, and enables the males to emit a hissing sound that can be heard at a distance of 75 m. It resembles an earthen pot known locally as "ghara". The nasal growth is apparently used to indicate sexual maturity, as sound resonator when bubbling under water or other sexual behaviours. The gharial is the only living crocodilian with such visible sexual dimorphism. The gharial's snout is very long and narrow, with 27-29 upper and 25-26 lower teeth on each side. The front teeth are the largest. The first, second, and third mandibular teeth fit into notches in the upper jaw. The snout is dilated at the end. It becomes proportionally thicker with age. This long snout is considered an adaptation to a primarily piscivorous diet. The long, needle-like teeth are individually socketed. The tail is well-developed and laterally flattened. Together with the webbed feet it provides tremendous manoeuvrability in deep water. On land, a gharial can only slide on its belly and push itself forward. In Nepal, small populations are present and slowly recovering in tributaries of the Ganges, such as the Narayani-Rapti river system in Chitwan National Park. The gharial is the most thoroughly aquatic of the living crocodilians. Young gharials move forward by pushing the diagonally opposite legs synchronously, whereby the hind feet step close to where the front feet were. At a young age, they can also gallop in emergency situations. When they reach a weight of about 1.5 kg their locomotion changes to pushing forward with hind and front legs simultaneously. Adult gharial do not have the ability to walk on land in the semi-upright stance as other crocodilians, but leave the water only for basking close to the water’s edge. When on the beach, they often turn round so to face the water. The gharial is a thermoconformer and seeks to cool down during hot times and to warm up when ambient temperature is cool. Gharials bask daily foremost in the mornings, and prefer sandy and moist beaches. They change their basking pattern with increasing daily temperatures, and start basking earlier in the mornings, move back into the river when it is hot, and return to the beach later in the afternoon.
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The gharial is efficient and well adapted at hunting fish underwater, because of its sharp interdigitated teeth and long narrow snout that meets little resistance in the water. Juvenile gharials jerk their heads back to manoeuvre fish into their gullets, sliding them in head first. Young gharials feed on insects, tadpoles, small fish and frogs. Adults also feed on small crustaceans. Remains of Indian softshell turtle (Nilssonia gangetica) was also found in gharial stomachs. They tear apart large fish and pick up and swallow stones as gastroliths, probably to aid digestion or buoyancy. They catch fish by lying in wait for fish to swim by. They herd fish with their bodies against the shore, and stun fish using their underwater jaw clap. They do not chew their prey, but swallow it whole. Young gharials hatch in July just before the onset of the rainy season. Their sex is determined by temperature. Females dig up the hatchlings in response to hatching chirps, but do not assist them to reach the water. The gharial is sympatric with the mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris). Gharials were killed by fishermen, hunted for skins, trophies and indigenous medicine, and their eggs collected for consumption. Today, the remaining individuals form several fragmented subpopulations. Hunting is no longer considered a significant threat.

Smooth-coated otter is a relatively large otter, 7-11 kg in weight and 59- 64 cm in length, plus a tail 37-43 cm long. It is distinguished from other otter species by its more rounded head, hairless nose and flattened tail. As its name suggests, it has unusually short and sleek fur; dark to reddish brown along the back, while the underside is light brown to almost grey in colour. Smooth-coated otters live across the Himalayan ranges India, Nepal, Bhutan down to the islands of Borneo and Brunei. It occurs in areas where fresh water is plentiful; wetlands, swamps, rivers, lakes, rice paddies. Where it is the only otter species, it lives in any suitable habitat. But where it is sympatric with other otter species, it avoids smaller streams and canals in favour of larger water bodies. The smooth-coated otter is the only living species in the genus Lutrogale. Smooth-coated otters are social and hunt in groups. They are mainly diurnal, and have a short lull in activity during midday. They use scent to communicate within the otter species, and with other animals. Each otter possesses a pair of scent glands at the base of the tail used to mark land or objects near feeding areas (a behaviour called sprainting). They communicate with vocalisations eg whistles, chirps, wails. Fish comprise 70% of their diet, but they also eat reptiles, frogs, insects, crustaceans, and small mammals. Major threats are loss of wetland habitats due to construction of large-scale hydroelectric projects, reclamation of wetlands for agriculture, reduction in prey biomass, poaching, and contamination of waterways by pesticides. In most Asian countries, increased human population, inadequate/ ineffective rural development programmes which do not address the problems of poverty, forcing people to be more dependent on natural resources. Consequently, most waterways do not have adequate prey to sustain otter populations. Increased pesticide use poses a danger to predators feeding on aquatic prey in the area. Otter trapping is prevalent in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
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At about 5pm we finally emerged at a landing stage where locals waited for the boat taxi to take them across. After a 10 minute wait the boat (a dug out again) took us across to a hut selling beer and ice-cream (heaven sent by this point) before we collected our jeep to drive back to the hotel. We, naturally, changed into swimmers and jumped straight into the cool swimming pool. We had dinner at 18.30, a buffet affair made entirely from food from the jungle. The green leaves had been collected by our guide, so in a way we contributed to our own meal! We had the typical malpuwa (sweet wheat fritter), dahi bara (lentil dumpling topped with savoury gravy of yoghurt, tamarind and spices) and mithais (sweets).
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Posted by PetersF 14:18 Archived in Nepal Tagged birds insects tiger nepal rhino chitwan gharial toads Comments (0)

Chitwan - rhinos and elephants


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October 5th Chitwan, Nepal

Half way through the night we woke up to find our bed was glowing. When we pulled back the covers we discovered a very pretty and very bright glow worm/ firefly! With a torch it didn’t look like much at all; a medium sized brownish beetle, but in the dark its rear glowed on and off a bright green-blue. The Lampyridae are a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera. They are winged soft-bodied beetles, commonly called fireflies or lightning bugs for their conspicuous use of bioluminescence. Fireflies produce a "cold light", with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. This chemically produced light from the lower abdomen may be yellow, green, or pale red, with wavelengths from 510 to 670 nanometers. Soon after we were woken by monkeys playing on our roof. Then we gave up, which was fine as we had to get up at 5ish for a 5;30 start to our jeep safari.
It was barely dawn as we set out in the jeep and we were easily the first jeep into the forest, which made it most surreal. The mist rose off the land and we were treated to a beautiful sunrise with grasses, rivers and wildlife around. The jeep took a winding path through the park, avoiding other jeep safaris (only 4 are allowed in at any time), through grasses taller than our jeep, over forded streams and open grasslands and down forested gullies. We came across several large herds of deer, co-existing with a peafowl muster (ie.group). These were spotted deer (chtial), and we saw several groups over the morning, including some very cute fawns, almost invisible in the dappled forest. We also saw quite a few sambar, muntjac and hyelaphus deer.
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The Chital or Spotted deer, native in the Indian subcontinent is a moderate-sized deer, male chital reach nearly 90 cm and weigh 30–75 kg. The species is sexually dimorphic; males are larger than females, and antlers are present only on males. The upper parts are golden to rufous, completely covered in white spots. The abdomen, rump, throat, insides of legs, ears, and tail are all white. The antlers, three-pronged, are nearly 1 m long. The scientific name is Axis axis, the only member of the axis group. The vernacular chital is from the Hindi c!tal or from the Sanskrit citrala, both of which mean "variegated", ie spotted. Chital are active throughout the day. In the summer, time is spent in rest under shade, and the sun's glare is avoided if the temperature reaches 27 °C; activity peaks as dusk approaches. These deer typically move in a single file on specific tracks, with a distance of two to three times their width between them, when on a journey, typically in search of food and water sources. When cautiously inspecting its vicinity the chital stands motionless and listens with attention. As an antipredator measure, chital flee in groups (unlike the hog deer that disperse on alarm); sprints are followed by hiding in dense undergrowth.
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The Sambar (Rusa unicolor) is a large deer native to the Indian subcontinent and listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Individuals tend to be large, and females are smaller than males. Among all living cervid species, only the moose and the elk can attain larger sizes. The large, rugged antlers fork at the tip, so they have only three tines. They are typically up to 110 cm long. As with most deer, only the males have antlers. Adult males and pregnant/ lactating females possess an unusual hairless, blood-red spot located about half way down the underside of their throats. This sometimes oozes a white liquid, and is apparently glandular in nature. Sambar are nocturnal or crepuscular. The males live alone for much of the year, and the females live in small herds of up to 16 individuals. In some areas, the average herd consists of only 3-4, typically an adult female, her most recent young and a subordinate immature female. This is an unusual for deer, which more commonly live in larger groups. They often congregate near water, and are good swimmers. Like most deer, sambar are generally quiet, although adults can scream or make high pitched sounds when alarmed. However, they more commonly communicate with scent marking or foot stamping.
Hyelaphus or hog deer is a genus of relatively small Asian deer that are overall brown. The three pecies are all threatened. Originally considered a subgenus of Axis, genetic evidence indicates that Hyelaphus is closer to the genus Rusa than Axis. Consequently, Hyelaphus was elevated to genus status, leaving the chital as the only member of Axis.
The Indian muntjac (Munttiacus muntjak
k), or Southern red muntjac and barking deer, is a deer species native to Asia. It has soft brown-grey fur with creamy markings. It is among the smallest deer species. It is an omnivore, eating grass, fuit, shoots, seeds, bird eggs and small animals, and occasionally carrion. It has a barking call when frightened by a predator and hence the common name "barking deer". Males have canines, short antlers that usually branch just once near the base, and a large postorbital scent gland used to mark territories. Females have tufts of fur and small bony knobs instead of antlers. These deer are highly alert. When in a stressful situation or if a predator is sensed, muntjacs begin making a bark like sound. Barking was originally thought of as a means of communication between the deer during mating season, as well as an alert. However, in more recent studies, it has been identified as a mechanism used solely to cause a predator to realise that it has been detected and move elsewhere or to reveal itself. The barking mechanism is used more frequently when visibility is reduced and can last for over an hour for just one incident.

As we drove along our guide suddenly told the driver to stop the car. Two spotted deer, a male and female, stood stock still in front of us looking left. Suddenly we knew why, as a rhinoceros charged across the road not 2 metres away from us. Our first rhino!
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One-horned rhino. The Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), also called the greater one-horned rhinoceros and great Indian rhinoceros, is a rhinoceros native to the Indian subcontinent. It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, as populations are fragmented and restricted to less than 20,000 km2. Moreover, the extent and quality of the rhino's most important habitat, alluvial grassland and riverine forest, is considered to be in decline due to human and livestock encroachment. As of 2008, a total of 2,575 mature individuals were estimated to live in the wild. The Indian rhinoceros once ranged throughout the entire stretch of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, but excessive hunting and agricultural development reduced their range drastically to 11 sites in northern India and southern Nepal. In the early 1990s, between 1,870 and 1,895 rhinos were estimated to have been alive. Ancestral rhinoceroses first diverged from other perissodactyls in the Early Eocene. Mitochondrial DNA comparison suggests the ancestors of modern rhinos split from the ancestors of Equidae around 50 million years ago. The extant family, the Rhinocerotidae, first appeared in the Late Eocene in Eurasia, and the ancestors of the extant rhino species dispersed from Asia beginning in the Miocene. Fossils of R. unicornis appear in the Middle Pleistocene. The Indian and Javan rhinoceroses, the only members of the genus Rhinoceros, first appear in the fossil record in Asia around 1.6 million–3.3 million years ago. Although belonging to the genus, Indian and Javan rhinoceroses are not closely related to other rhino species. Different studies have hypothesized that they may be closely related to the extinct Gaindatherium or Punjabitherium. A detailed cladistic analysis of the Rhinocerotidae placed Rhinoceros and the extinct Punjabitherium in a clade with Dicerorhinus, the Sumatran rhinoceros. The Indian rhinoceros has a thick grey-brown skin with pinkish skin folds and a black horn. Its upper legs and shoulders are covered in wart-like bumps. It has very little body hair, aside from eyelashes, ear fringes and tail brush. Males have huge neck folds. Its skull is heavy with a basal length above 60 cm and an occiput above 19 cm. Its nasal horn is slightly back-curved with a base of about 18.5cm by 12 cm that rapidly narrows until a smooth, even stem part begins at about 55mm above the base. The rhino's single horn is present in both males and females. The black horn is pure keratin, like human fingernails, and starts to show after about six years. In most adults, the horn reaches a length of about 25 cm but has been recorded up to 36 cm in length and weight 3.051 kg. Among terrestrial land mammals native to Asia, the Indian rhinoceros is second in size only to the Asian elephant. It is also the second-largest living rhinoceros, behind only the white rhinoceros. Adult male Indian rhinos are usually solitary.
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Groups consist of females with calves, or of up to six subadults. Such groups congregate at wallows and grazing areas. They are foremost active in early mornings, late afternoons and at night, but rest during hot days. They are excellent swimmers and can run at speeds of up to 55 km/h for short periods. They have excellent senses of hearing and smell, but relatively poor eyesight. Over 10 distinct vocalisations have been recorded. Males have home ranges of around 2 to 8 km2 that overlap each other. Dominant males tolerate males passing through their territories except when they are in mating season, when dangerous fights break out. Indian rhinos bathe regularly. The folds in their skin trap water and hold it even when they come back on land. Indian rhinos have few natural enemies, except for tigers, which sometimes kill unguarded calves, but adult rhinos are less vulnerable due to their size. Indian rhinoceros are grazers. Their diets consist almost entirely of grasses, but they also eat leaves, branches of shrubs and trees, fruits, and submerged and floating aquatic plants. They feed in the mornings and evenings. They use their semi-prehensile lips to grasp grass stems, bend the stem down, bite off the top, and then eat the grass. They tackle very tall grasses or saplings by walking over the plant, with legs on both sides and using the weight of their bodies to push the end of the plant down to the level of the mouth. Mothers also use this technique to make food edible for their calves. They drink for a minute or two at a time, often imbibing water filled with rhinoceros urine. In addition to noises, the rhino uses olfactory communication. Adult males urinate backwards, as far as 3–4 m behind them, often in response to being disturbed by observers. Like all rhinos, the Indian rhinoceros often defecates near other large dung piles. The Indian rhino has pedal scent glands which are used to mark their presence at these rhino latrines.

As we drove around we started to see more birds, including the ubiquitous treepies, as well as some more interesting Blue-tailed bee-eaters and Nuthatches. We saw more monkeys in the trees, and suddenly I spotted a wild boar which quickly dived into the undergrowth.
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Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) DNA studies indicate that the wild boar originated from islands in Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, and subsequently spread onto mainland Eurasia and North Africa. The earliest fossil finds come from both Europe and Asia, and date back to the Early Pleistocene. By the late Villafranchian, S. scrofa largely displaced the related S. strozzii, a large, possibly swamp-adapted suid ancestral to the modern S. verrucosus throughout the Eurasian mainland.
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The Blue-tailed bee-eater (Merops philippinus) is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family Meropidae. It breeds in southeastern Asia. It is strongly migratory, seen in much of peninsular India. This species is sometimes considered to be conspecific with the blue-cheeked bee-eater. Like other bee- eaters, is a richly coloured, slender bird, predominantly green; its face has a narrow blue patch with a black eye stripe, and a yellow and brown throat; the tail is blue and the beak is black. It can reach a length of 23–26 cm, including the two elongated central tail feathers. Sexes are alike. This bird breeds in sub-tropical open country, such as parks or ricefields. It is most often seen near large water bodies. Like other bee-eaters it predominantly eats insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. It probably takes bees and dragonflies in roughly equal numbers. The insects that are caught are beaten on the perch to kill and break the exoskeleton, a habit is seen in many other members of the coraciiformes order. These bee-eaters are gregarious, nesting colonially in sandy banks or open flat areas. They make a relatively long tunnel in which the 5 to 7 spherical white eggs are laid. Both the male and the female take care of the eggs. These birds also feed and roost communally.
As we neared the river once more, we stopped as our guide spotted a large rhino half submerged by the opposite bank. After a while we drove on so other groups could observe it, stopping at a central point to buy a drink. As we headed back out we saw more spotted deer, and then a lucky find, the endangered Indian Grey Mongoose, a mother with three babies!
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The Indian grey mongoose or common grey mongoose (Herpestes edwardsi) is a mongoose species mainly found in West Asia and on the Indian subcontinent. In North Indian languages (Hindi/Punjabi) it is called Nevlaa. The grey mongoose is commonly found in open forests, scrublands and cultivated fields, in burrows, hedgerows and thickets, among groves of trees, and takes shelter under rocks or bushes and even in drains. It is very bold and inquisitive but wary, seldom venturing far from cover. It climbs very well. Usually found singly or in pairs, it preys on rodents, snakes, birds’ eggs and hatchlings, lizards and variety of invertebrates. It occasionally feeds on gharial eggs. It breeds throughout the year.The Indian grey mongoose is omnivorous, though most of its diet is made up from live prey it catches from being an opportunistic hunter, with mice, rats, lizards, snakes, and beetles making up the bulk. Also eaten are ground birds, their eggs, grasshoppers, scorpions, centipedes, frogs, crabs, fish, and parts of plants: fruits, berries, and roots, as well as larger prey including hares and egrets. It kills prey by delivering a bite to the neck or head. This species is known for its ability to combat venomous snakes. It primarily achieves this through tiring the snake out, by enticing it to make multiple strikes which it acrobatically avoids. Secondary protection against the venomous bite includes the stiff rigid hair, which is excited at such times, the thick loose skin and specialised acetylcholine receptors render it resistant or immune to snake venom. When dealing with scorpions, no measures are taken to disable the sting, and they are picked up in any manner. The Indian grey mongoose typically opens eggs by holding them between the paws and biting a hole in the little end. Smaller mongooses typically open eggs by throwing them between their legs against a hard object.

Heading back to the lodge we saw the working elephants replete with their cargo of wood. Finally, our breakfast at all of 9am! After a brief rest until 10.30, when we walked to the elephant bathing area. Great fun!
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The Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) is one of three subspecies of the Asian elephant. Since 1986, the Asian elephant has been listed as Endangered as the wild population has declined by at least 50%. The Asian elephant is threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation. Asian elephants are smaller than African elephants and have the highest body point on the head. The tip of their trunk has one finger-like process. Their back is convex or level. Indian elephants reach 2-3.5 m, weigh 2,000-5,000 kg, and have 19 pairs of ribs. Their skin is lighter with small patches of depigmentation. Females are usually smaller than males, and have short or no tusks. Indian elephants have smaller ears, but relatively broader skulls and larger trunks than African elephants. Toes are large and broad. The Indian elephant is native to mainland Asia: India, Nepal, Bhutan, down to Cambodia, and Vietnam. It inhabits grasslands, dry deciduous, moist deciduous, evergreen and semi-evergreen forests. Elephant corridors have been established across Nepal-India-Bhutan. Elephants are classified as megaherbivores and consume up to 150 kg of plant matter per day. They are generalist feeders, both grazing and browsing, feeding on 100+ different plant species, most commonly legume, palm, sedge and true grass families.
We really enjoyed this, even down to feeding the elephants with whole bananas (they LOVED this). Then we went back to the lodge and decided to have a stroll into the town-village, which was not even 10 minutes down the road. After a pleasant retail trip (not much to buy- just a T-shirt, but REALLY friendly people and children), we had a big ice-cream and strolled back for lunch and a bit of down time.
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At 16.30 we met up with a friendly Dutch couple to walk into the town and down to the river for sunset. On our way our guide took us into the Tharu part of the village where we met a local family living fairly traditionally, and learnt a bit more about their culture.
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Some Tharu live in longhouses, which may hold up to 150 people. The longhouses are built of mud with lattice walls. They grow barley, wheat, maize, and rice, as well as raise animals such as chickens, ducks, pigs, and goats. In the big rivers, they use large nets to fish. Most Tharu households own a statue of a traditional god. Family members often offer animal's blood sacrifices to appease the god. Animals such as pigeons and chickens are used for sacrificial purposes. Milk and silk cloth are also used. Many Tharu would also use the blood of one of the male members in the family for such rituals. Such rituals are conducted through ceremonies, and superficial cuts are made forehead, arms, throat, legs, and/or chest. Because the Tharu lived in isolation in malarial swamps until the recent use of DDT, they developed a style of decorating the walls, rice containers and other objects in their environment. The Tharu women transform outer walls and verandahs of their homes into colorful paintings said to be dedicated to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity and fertility. Genetic resistance to malaria suggests that Tharu were already living in the Terai before Indo-Europeans arrived, raising the question what they may have been speaking at the time. Nevertheless if any linguistic features survive from that era, they have not been documented. Traditional Tharu worship various gods in the form of animals such as dogs, crow, ox and cows. Such gods are seen in Hinduism. Every village has their own deity, commonly known as Bhuinyar. Tharu in East Nepal call their deity Gor- raja. The gods are believed to have the ability to heal diseases and sickness. According to traditional legend, gods are given a bhakal, a promise of something, on condition that the sickness is cured, in any events of misfortunes, plagues and horror dreams. A relative's death is an event of great significance among Tharu, and rituals conducted varies in accordance to regions.
Then on to the river. We spotted yet more gharial (if you lived here you would have no idea they were critically endangered), a few more crocos and lots of roosting birds, including the famous hornbills. After a pleasant riverbank walk we ended at a cafe on the riverbank where we grabbed some beers and enjoyed watching the sunset. We strolled back under our own resources for dinner at 19.00.
The hornbills (Bucerotidae) are a family of birds in tropical/ subtropical Africa and Asia, characterised by a long, down-curved bill, frequently brightly coloured and sometimes with a casque on the upper mandible. Both the English and scientific name refer to the shape of the bill, buceros is cow horn in Greek. Hornbills have a two-lobed kidney. They are the only birds in which the 1st and 2nd neck vertebrae are fused together, to make a stable platform for carrying the bill. They are omnivorous, feeding on fruit and small animals. They nest in natural cavities in trees and sometimes cliffs. Hornbills show considerable variation in size, ranging from the black dwarf hornbill at 102g and 30cm long, to the great hornbill at up to 4kg and 1.2m long. The most distinctive feature of the hornbills is the heavy bill. The large bill assists in fighting, preening, nest construction, and catching prey. A feature unique to the hornbills is the casque, a hollow structure that runs along the upper mandible. In some species it is barely perceptible and appears to serve no function beyond reinforcing the bill. In other it is quite large, reinforced with bone, and has openings between the hollow centre, allowing it to serve as a resonator for calls. Aerial casque-butting has also been reported in the great hornbill. The plumage of hornbills is typically black, grey, white, or brown, frequently offset by bright colours on the bill. Hornbills bills intrude on their visual field. This allows them to see their own bill tip and aids in precision handling of food. The eyes are protected by large eyelashes which act as a sunshade. When a female is ready to lay eggs, the nest entrance is just large enough for her to enter, and then is almost sealed shut with one narrow aperture, big enough for the male to transfer food to the mother and chicks. This is apparently related to protecting the nesting site from rival hornbills.

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Posted by PetersF 14:56 Archived in Nepal Tagged elephant nepal rhino chitwan mongoose Comments (0)

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