My new best friend
Rama, the one on the right, has only one tusk. The other became infected and was extracted by the park's dentist.
Yesterday I visited the Elephant Safari Park in Taro, just north of Ubud. Yes, it was a little touristy, and yes, it was a little pricey, but how often does a nice girl (well, OK, a reasonably pleasant girl
) from the Midwest get to ride an elephant?
There are several elephant parks in Bali. I chose this one because of its strong emphasis on breeding and conservation. It also has an elephant “hospital,” where they manage the animals health concerns, including once performing cataract surgery, and a research area. The park is home to 30 rescued Sumatran elephants; three baby elephants were born in the park in 2009.
Another point in its favor is that unlike some other attractions with elephants, the Elephant Safari Park pairs each elephant with its own human, or mahout
, defined as the driver and keeper of an elephant. My mahout had come to Bali from Sumatra with Rama, his elephant. The two had been together for 17 years. Since elephants live about as long as humans, it is common for the two to be together for most of their lives.
The drive to Taro from Ubud is an interesting excursion in and
of itself. You drive on impossibly narrow, potholed roads that are shared with other cars, trucks, motorbikes, regular bikes, pedestrians, dogs, and a few stray chickens. The road is steep, poorly marked, with sharp hairpin curves. I was definitely happy to leave this to the professional - especially on the return trip in a blinding downpour.
You pass through small villages along side rice paddies in various stages of planting and harvest. Planting is still done by hand, and harvesting is still done with a hand sickle. It is back-breaking labor in the heat. You pass women and children washing themselves and their clothes in some of the filthiest rivers and drainage ditches I have ever seen. I was once again struck by how very hard these people work for very little money.
Once inside the park, the elephants are the stars. Guides and mahouts at the park all speak English, and park brochures are available in English, French, and Japanese. The mahouts guide their elephants to a raised platform where you can easily step onto the elephant’s back and into the sedan chair.
Then you are off into the forest. From your seat on the back
The park had three babies born 2009
of the elephant you rock from side to side through some very lush scenery. My mahout pointed out cacao trees, coffee trees, papayas, and the inevitable chickens. Passing a dilapidated shack he said, “Hotel - for chickens. Five star hotel.” The elephants set a deliberate pace that is a little quicker than it appears, except when they slow down to snatch a snack from a tasty bush or stand of elephant grass. Occasionally the mahout would pluck a fruit from a tree we passed and feed it to his elephant, much like you would give a treat to your dog.
Once you dismount, you can feed the elephants, pet them, have your picture taken. Elephants are pretty clever; once Rama noticed I had a whole handful of sugarcane that I was feeding him piece by piece, he started tucking the pieces in his trunk and took each piece as fast as I would give it to him.
The baby elephants are also curious about humans, and are very happy to take a bit of corn or sweet potato from your hand. While I was there, one of the nursery attendants fed the babies a bottle. I asked if
it was mother’s milk, and he said no, it was cow’s milk. They give the baby elephants some cow’s milk every day for their health.
Possibly useful information:
• While it is cooler in Taro than in Ubud, it is still hot. Dress lightly, and bring insect repellant.
• The restaurant at the park is pretty good, and there are no other recommended dining options close by.
• By far the best value for this park is the Safari Ride Tour package. This includes pick and return from your hotel, entrance to the park, elephant ride, buffet lunch and insurance. Bali, May 27, 2010
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