Gharials, with their long snouts and razor sharp teeth have to be disentangled with great care, and there are always park rangers watching through binoculars from sentry towers along the river. The Park warden has trained them to follow instructions on fishing, the do’s and dont’s. For example, after disentangling them, the gharials have to be taken to the breeding centre at Kasara.
The larger mugger crocodiles are even more dangerous, and the Bote have lost friends and family to them. A few months ago, Rishiram’s friend’s body was found 50km downstream from where he was last seen. During the monsoon, the Rapti’s waters rise and the crocodiles come right up to the huts. They are shooed away with sticks, sometimes unsuccessfully.
In the misty winter mornings, the tall, thick elephant grass has rhinoceroses, tigers and sometimes even wild elephants, lurking in them. The fishermen and rhinos frequently cross paths. On one such cold morning, Rishiram’s uncle had gone into the forest with his nets, and he saw the rhino too late. It charged, and gored him.
Encountering tigers and wild elephants can be a risky affair. Especially if it happens to be Ronaldo, a rogue elephant which keeps himself entertained by entering villages and mauling inhabitants every year. Villagers usually ward off the wild elephants that come in search of food with electrified barbed wire fences.
However, the intelligence quotient of elephants is legendary. They know when there is a power cut and listen to the sounds of generators, and vibrations in the wires, to determine when the wires do not carry a current. The villagers then have to resort to lighting fires to keep the animals out, as well as keep themselves warm.
The main livelihood of the Bote is fishing, paddling boats, gold-panning, collecting wood, and harvesting elephant grass and edible ferns from the forest. However, since the Chitwan National Park was established, fishing activities have been regulated with strict guidelines. Some now grow crops in their limited land by the river. They also sell chicken, eggs and elephant grass, and buy dal, rice and buffalo meat to supplement their own supply of fish, mutton, chicken and homegrown vegetables.