I received another update email from John Blashford-Snell at the Scientific Exploration Society (SES) basecamp last week. It contained some very exciting news from a Cardiff University scientist who had just returned from Bardia. He had spent a month out there making a documentary for the Discovery Channel.
E. maximus genome project
Although his own research focuses on the conservation of the Baird’s tapir in Honduras, he was particularly taken by Bardia’s giant elephants. As a result he is considering the supervision of a Master student to carry our the analysis that would support a genomic project. By using modern DNA techniques to take a gene-by-gene look at the elephant population, it would be possible to answer almost any question we like about the wild elephants’ ancestry. He has therefore asked our 2012 expedition team to collect some dung samples with which he can carry out an initial survey.
Possible lead on burial site of Raja Gaj
He also included a throwaway remark that has raised many eyebrows among members of the SES who have long believed that the body of Raja Gaj, the original ‘giant elephant’ and star of John’s book ‘Mammoth Hunt‘, must have been washed away by the river when he died.
However, according to this latest email;
“If you speak with Peter Byrne or any of the staff at Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge, they may be able to show you to Raja Gaj’s burial site, which I was shown while I was there.”
This news is highly significant. Especially if a project to trace the genetics of the elephant population does eventually find funding and support.
When I spoke to John by telephone following receipt of this email, he sounded as surprised as I was at this news, which we shall certainly follow up this April.
Tigers, rhinos and pythons also doing well
We were also provided with an update on some other local residents:
“The tiger population is doing well, and at least two females have cubs. I also encountered three different rhinos with babies, which i was delighted about. We came across several very large pythons during our stay too, the largest of which I decided to measure after Peter told me he had never seen such a huge specimen, and found her to be 4.45m long with a 67cm girth.”