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  • The central massif of the Himalayas presides over the landscape of Nepal, a constant presence

  • which also occupies the majority of its territory.

  • The white peaks have always attracted man

  • who considered them first as deities, then later as challenges.

  • But, further down, the secret forests of this part of the world conceal the most ancient

  • of all legends.

  • The human settlers of these valleys have had to find ways to survive on these sheer slopes.

  • Along the slopes they have created a safe place in which to grow their crops, away from

  • the wild beasts of the valley floor.

  • Their terraced fields look directly over the forests below, a superb vantage point from

  • which to survey the jungle of the unicorn.

  • In 398 B.C., the Greek historian Ctesias wrote a book about India and Nepal, and for the

  • first time spoke of a wild beast which, to this day, continues to fascinate mankind.

  • The inhabitants of the forest knew of its presence, and in the shadows of the humid

  • jungle its smell still lingers.

  • The legend lives here; the magical creature with a single horn, spoken of in countless

  • cultures, emerging from the mists of time, the most sought-after mystery.

  • But this animal has long been cursed, and time has not changed that. In the twenty-first

  • century it is still hunted, for the power that grows on its forehead.

  • We are going to enter the enchanted forest, the birthplace of the legend

  • ON THE TRACKS OF THE UNICORN.

  • Along the border between Nepal and India, there runs a strip of rainforests which alternate

  • with the meadows of the lowlands. Open jungle whose floor, rich in pasture, provides food

  • for many species of herbivores.

  • After Africa, these forests possess the greatest variety of animal species in the world.

  • And nonetheless, due to their inaccessibility, they remain virtually unknown.

  • Large deer such as the sambars are the food of the king of the shadows.

  • The presence of the Bengal tiger means the herbivores of the jungle must constantly be

  • on the alert. Danger is ever-present.

  • The pattern of the skin of this great feline forms part of the landscape, as it hunts for

  • the meat it needs to maintain its almost 300 kilos of striped body.

  • But the tiger is not the only giant of these forests. On the intense green ground there

  • is an animal which not even he would dare attack.

  • The gaur.

  • Weighing one thousand kilos, it is the largest wild bovine in the world.

  • A ton of bad temper, standing up to two metres tall.

  • The gaurs are not only have nothing to fear from the

  • tigers, but will even trample them down if one crosses the path of the herd.

  • A less violent way to escape from the tiger is to climb up into the higher levels of the jungle.

  • That is precisely what the langurs do. In India, these animals are sacred, as,

  • in their religion, they are related to the monkey god Hanuman. These primates are exclusively

  • vegetarian, specialised in the consumption of leaves. Such a poor diet that they are

  • forced to be constantly on the move across the roof of the jungle, in search of a decent tree.

  • More nutritious than leaves are these large flowers, on which the humming birds feed.

  • These birds are experts at extracting the sweet nectar contained inside the corollas,

  • along with the tiny insects that seek refuge there.

  • Their constant visits carry the pollen from one flower to another,

  • pollinating them, and so contributing to keeping the forest alive.

  • All these biological marvels were already here two thousand years ago, when the first

  • travellers spoke of this land as a magical place, inhabited by fantastic creatures, above

  • all one in particular, the unicorn.

  • Its horn, which they called analicornis”,

  • was a sure antidote to any poison, which it immediately detected and neutralised. This

  • made it greatly desired by kings and noblemen, always afraid of being poisoned. Some of them

  • offered vast fortunes in exchange for one.

  • Romans and Greeks spread the myth and, thanks

  • to a translation by Luther, it entered the bible itself, where it is quoted seven times.

  • The Roman Aelianus speaks of the cartazon, a term taken from the Sanskrit kartajan, which

  • meansLord of the Jungle”; and Pliny the Elder calls it monoceros, with the head

  • of a deer, the feet of an elephant, and the tail of a pig.

  • But without a doubt, the most important description was that of the Roman Julius Solinus, who

  • defines it as “a monster with a terrible roar, and a horn springing from the centre

  • of its forehead, of marvellous splendour, four feet in length, and which can never be caught alive.”

  • The chronicler was not far from the reality. The myth lives here, and it is the Indian

  • rhinoceros. Its means of defence was, in fact, imported into Europe until the end of the

  • eighteenth century, asunicorn horns”, to be used as remedies for a wide range of

  • illnesses, and this belief still continues in traditional Asian medicine.

  • Its leathery skin was also used for defence by men, in the form of shields for the soldiers.

  • This armour plating protects them from attacks by tigers.

  • The fact that man coveted certain parts of its body brought the Indian rhinoceros to

  • the verge of extinction, and by 1960 barely a hundred remained.

  • The massacre did not cease

  • until 1976, when a division of the Nepalese army was given the task of protecting them

  • from attacks by poachers.

  • These characteristic jungles are crossed by major rivers which, in the rainy season, overflow,

  • forming extensive flood plains.

  • The climate is sub-tropical, with the summer monsoon accounting for 90% of the annual rainfall.

  • When the monsoon arrives, the vegetation literally explodes, covering everything.

  • The flooded plains fill withelephant grasses”,

  • so called because of their size, as they grow up to eight metres high.

  • In reality, it is

  • an ideal ecosystem for plant-eaters, the many different species that feed on grasses, which

  • occupy and colonise it, forming an intricate tapestry.

  • The incredible exuberance of the vegetation is hell for man, but not for the plant-eaters,

  • who gorge themselves on the gigantic feast that covers everything.

  • At this time of year, the rhinoceroses and a number of species of deer, such as the sambars

  • and the chitals, spend many hours here.

  • Just a few hundred years ago, the Indian rhinoceros

  • grazed on all the flood plains of the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, but now it

  • has been reduced to just two national parks: Chitwan in Nepal and Kaziranga in India.

  • This region, called Terai, forms the northern border between India and Nepal, and is occupied

  • by ecosystems characteristic of the salt forests and grasslands flooded by seasonal rises in

  • These are the lands of the Indian rhinoceros,

  • the final refuges of the unicorn.

  • Here in the Kaziranga National Park, the river Brahmaputra floods over every year, fertilising

  • the entire plain with silt so rich that the vegetation is among the most exuberant, the

  • variety of species among the greatest in the world.

  • Three quarters of the Park is then flooded, and when the waters retreat, innumerable swamps

  • and marshes, calledbheels”, remain.

  • This is when this wildlife paradise really comes alive.

  • 70% of the world population of Indian rhinoceroses live here; for them, and for the Asian elephants,

  • water provides a refuge from the heat, and a place in which their enormous body weight

  • is a little easier to bear.

  • In 1985 this Park was declared a World Heritage Site, and to preserve this treasure, the Indian

  • government put into action one of the greatest conservationists initiatives in the world:

  • in Kaziranga there is one guard for every square kilometre.

  • Another of the treasures of these jungles is the only animal capable of taking advantage

  • of the meat of herbivores as large as the great buffalos.

  • It is also hunted by the poachers, but its major concern is finding enough to eat.

  • The presence of the tiger is the cause of one of the greatest problemsthe coexistence

  • of the National Parks and the people who live close by them.

  • In the country as a whole, at least 50 people die every year from tiger attacks; between

  • 3 and 5 in Chitwan alone, almost always due to imprudence on the part of the victims.

  • But the tiger avoids humans whenever it can. It would rather risk its life trying to bring

  • down an enormous buffalo.

  • This one has been badly injured in a fight with one of the great striped felines. Its

  • hindquarters, its back and its face have been clawed and bitten, and it has lost an eye.

  • With humidity of around 90%, the wounds will not easily heal, and internal infections will

  • kill it. Separated from the herd, all it can do is wait for the tiger to return and finish

  • off the job.

  • Now, it is easier to understand the function of the armour-plated skin of the rhinoceros.

  • You can eat in peace if you have that kind of protection from possible attackers.

  • But our unicorns have a taste for the high grasses of the banks of the swamp, and both

  • in Kaziranga and here in Chitwan, these grasses are also a valuable resource for the human

  • populations living around the edge of the park.

  • Since 1973, when it was declared a National Park, due to the fact it was the only place

  • in Nepal where rhinoceroses remained, a number of human settlements have been moved, the

  • people transferred to more fertile places without wild herbivores.

  • However, 310 villages

  • have not been able to be relocated, and they remain in direct contact with the Park.

  • When the season arrives, the local inhabitants cross the river, and enter the reserves, armed

  • with their recently-sharpened sickles.

  • Here they find what they are looking for. The natives have a legal concession to harvest

  • The natives have a legal concession to harvest the high grasses each year.

  • Around 60,000 people gather almost 11,000 tonnes during

  • harvest time, which lasts for 15 days or so.

  • The bushels accumulate, reaching a market value of some 450,000 dollars.

  • After taking off the costs of permits and labour, the net contribution to the local

  • economy is around 250,000 dollars.

  • As well as the income from sales to the paper industry, the grasses are also a basic construction

  • material for these people. They are also used to feed the domestic cattle, which cannot

  • stray far in search of pasture, for fear of being attacked by tigers.

  • The heavy monsoon rains make constant repairs to the roofs necessary.

  • This is also done with dried grass.

  • Wherever in the world there are people living

  • in a subsistence economy, we only need to see what the roofs are made of to know what

  • is the most accessible, cheap local material.

  • Underground water, clean and healthy, is, fortunately, abundant. And from this, and

  • the soil, the women make adobe which, of course, also includes grass among its ingredients.

  • But not all land uses are as uncontroversial as the harvesting of elephant grass.

  • Wheat and cotton fields are slowly replacing stretches of jungle.

  • Here, man is constantly present, carrying out the different tasks in the course of the year.

  • And this creates problems with the local wildlife.

  • These towers, calledmachamsare watchtowers from which to spot wild animals.

  • There is always a lookout on duty,

  • ready to raise the alarm whenever a tiger or a rhinoceros enters

  • the fields, posing a threat to the workerslives.

  • In reality, all the animals are doing is returning to places that were always theirs, but which,

  • little by little, have been stolen from them by man, who knows how to turn to his advantage

  • the greatest enemy of the jungle.

  • But the rainforests of Asia are almost as old as fire itself. They have tremendous powers

  • of regeneration, the ancient strength of vegetation.