Beast of Bardia

Mystery Elep hanT of Central Asia.

Etymology: After the Bardia Forest, where it is found.

Physical description: Shoulder height, 11-13

feet. Massive version of the Asian elephant, whose maximum height is said to be 11 feet. Large forehead with two domes. Distinct nasal bridge. Sloping back. Thick tail. Tracks: 22.5 inches across. Distribution: Karnali River, Royal Bardia National Park, Nepal.

Significant sighting: From 1991 to 1997, John Blashford-Snell led seven expeditions to the Royal Bardia National Park in Nepal in search of these outsize elephants. He succeeded in finding and photographing two adult males, estimated to be 11 feet 3 inches at the shoulder. The larger one he nicknamed "Rajah Gaj" and the smaller one "Kancha."

Present status: The Bardia population is estimated to consist of 100 elephants. A DNA analysis of dung samples taken from Blashford-Snell's individuals has identified them as Asian elephants.

Possible explanations:

(1) An isolated, inbred variety of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus).

(2) A surviving fossil elephant, Elephas hysu-dricus, known from fossils in the Siwalik Hills of northern India and western Nepal, that lived 2 million years ago.

(3) A surviving stegodon, a member of a primitive, elephant-like family of animals that died out more than 1 million years ago. Stegodon ganesa was 11 feet 6 inches at the shoulder but had a huge set of upper tusks that curved sideways and nearly reached the ground.

Sources: Peter Byrne, Tula Hatti: The Last Great Elephant (London: Faber and Faber, 1990); Bob Rickard and John Blashford-Snell, "The Expeditionist," Fortean Times, no. 70 (August-September 1993): 30-34; Nigel Hawkes, "Explorer Finds Giant Elephants in Nepal," Times (London), May 15, 1996; John Blashford-Snell and Rula Lenska, Mammoth Hunt: In Search of the Giant Elephants of Nepal (London: HarperCollins, 1996).

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