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We traveled to the border of India with Nepal, where began the legend of a creature able to attract people from around the world: The Unicorn India.
An incredible animal with a horn on its forehead, which can cure the ills of poor people who share ground with him. We follow the traces of this myth built 20 centuries ago crossing a jungle inhabited by wild creatures among which stands out one, the unicorn and is now known as the Indian rhinoceros, a unique species with enormous power on his forehead.
▶ Documentary "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.
The presence of the Bengal tiger means the herbivores of the jungle must constantly be on the alert. Danger is ever-present.
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, it is the largest wild bovine in the world.
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. The myth lives here, and it is the Indian rhinoceros. 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, 70% of the world population of Indian rhinoceroses live in the Kaziranga National Park.
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.
When the season arrives, the local inhabitants cross the river, and enter the reserves, armed with their recently-sharpened sickles.
The Indian rhinoceros deposits its faeces, creating over the years large piles which act as olfactory markers or beacons, defining its territory. Gigantic dung heaps that are impossible to ignore even for the least sensitive nose.
Another of the paradoxes of the ancient unicorn is that its horn is not the part of its body the Nepalese most appreciate.
They come to the dung heaps in search of what they swear is an infallible remedy for coughs. For them, the enormous piles of dung are a plentiful supply of the ingredients for the finest tobacco.
Rhinos are essentially solitary animals, but when the males reach sexual maturity, at ten years of age, they fight even the females when they meet. For the time being, Chitwan and Kaziranga are a good home for the rhinoceroses, with around 400 in the Nepalese park and 1,200 in the Indian one. The Indian rhinoceros have changed very little in the last million years. Rhinoceroses are perfectly content half-submerged in their very own vegetable soup, from which they eat while placing virtually no stress on their backbone, which most of the time has to carry the enormous weight of the animal.
In Bangkok, a kilo of Indian rhinoceros horn costs over three million pesetas. And, in a region where poverty is rife, the temptation to poach is enormous. The magic horn which made it a legend almost led to it join the dinosaurs, the dodo and the mammoth in the book of extinct species.
The charges for entering and camping in the park, the price of elephant tours, and lodging and permits, generate increasing income, making the local people more and more convinced that they are fortunate in having a national park on their doorstep.
Perhaps it was all true. Perhaps this is the magic of the unicorn. Night is drawing in around the Himalayas. Mist descends over the jungle where the last Indian rhinoceroses live. For some a green hell, for others the mythological forest inhabited by celestial creatures and unicorns; a place which holds an incredible fascination for all.
That is how the legend was born, with the translucent wings of the bats, perhaps under the effects of a fever, but it was here, by the Brahmaputra. It was all true. This is the home of an incredible animal, with a single horn emerging from its forehead, which can cure all the evils of the poor peoples with whom it shares this land. A being capable of attracting people from all over the world, simply in the hope of seeing it. The legend did not lie, the unicorn exists.
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