Elephant Riding in Bali... can there be a positive view? ... A visit to the Elephant Safari Park in Taro, Bali. Understanding what is going on with endangered species in Indonesia. Scenes from Bali!.... Want to go?

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May 11th 2008
Published: May 11th 2008
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The following article by Trisha Sertori featured in the Jakarta Post compelled me to add this blog entry about Bali and the elephants that I saw there during the Summer of 2007. I also visited the Elephant Safari Park in Taro, Bali, which is featured in this article. There are other elephant parks or camps (some have similar names), but this is truly the best one and I would encourage others to it seek out. While there, we heard that this one treats their elephants the best and is the one to support. The article below also challenges my usual hard-line opposition about Elephant Riding, at least in some circumstances. I still believe there are so many wonderful and more natural ways to enjoy elephants and that tourist will still come to see the elephants just being themselves, which you can read further about in my other blog entries: such as watching them play in a mud puddle, being a mother or auntie to a baby, etc. However I was humbled by this article as it is important to stress that for many elephants (especially in Indonesia) finding their way to a caring living environment such as the Elephant Safari Park is truly a life or death matter. Even if you do not want to watch elephants perform or take an elephant ride (we never did either while there), both my husband and I were quick to notice the care of the elephants and the gentleness of the staff/mahouts that were having the elephants perform, and yes- giving elephant rides. We spent our time just watching them, walking around their beautiful well-kept, jungle like grounds, and getting a hands on experience of feeding and touching the elephants: and looking into their wonderfully expressive eyes (my favorite!). We complimented the staff several times, and thanked them for being so kind to the elephants there. Now that I understand more of the history of this park, I feel very fortunate that I was able to go (of coarse, this article also entices me even more to visit the Orangutans in Kalimantan and Sumatra!). Regarding the photos added here, they are mostly to encourage others to at least visit Bali once... we took mostly videos so there are not very many still photos of the elephants.

Credits from the following article go to Trisha Sertori (The Jakarta Post). This article was also featured
Our first glimpse of an elephant...Our first glimpse of an elephant...Our first glimpse of an elephant...

This also shows how lush the grounds are at the Elephant Safari Park.
BaliBlog, Bali Travel Guide as one of their featured articles dated May 9, 2008.

Saving the Elephants
by Trisha Sertori (The Jakarta Post)

Indonesia currently has 16 or more species on the verge of extinction. A further 30 are classified as endangered. On the critically endangered and endangered lists are the Sumatran tiger, the Bali starling, the Javanese wild dog, the orangutans of Kalimantan and Sumatra, the Sumatran gibbon and the Sumatran elephant. Some claim the number of Sumatran elephants remaining in the wild is around 1,500, while the more conservative believe 1,000 is more likely. A further 900 or so are found in Sumatra’s elephant camps; once known as elephant training centers, the camps are now called elephant conservation centers and are designed to save the species. However, these camps have become death camps for far too many elephants, according to elephant conservationist Nigel Mason of the Elephant Safari Park in Taro, Bali.

“There is never a surviving (rescued) baby in the camps. They are not adequately provided with enough medicines, foods, milk … there is simply not enough funding going into the camps,” said Nigel, who from 2002 until 2005 attempted to transport a group of Sumatran elephants from Minas camp in Riau province to the elephant park in Bali.

The park is an eco-tourism center that aims to conserve the Sumatran elephant according to Trisha Sertori.

Changes in law thwarted a 2002 effort to transport and save the animals, which included two baby elephants orphaned when their parents fled farmers.

“The 2002 transfer went on hold until 2004. The baby elephants died within months of the failed transfer. We had left milk and medical supplies, but maybe workers took the milk home for their own families,” said Nigel of the hardship faced by the elephants and their human protectors in the underfunded camps.

He said since the successful transfer of ten elephants in 2005, the park has repeatedly offered to take abandoned baby elephants, raise them and return them to Sumatra for release or camp life.

“We have offered to take any babies, bring them here, raise them and send them back as adults. Never has one been sent,” said Nigel, who became involved in elephant conservation quite accidentally in 1997.

“An Australian guy came to my office and asked if I wanted to take on some elephants. This was something I had never given thought too. Elephants are not native to Bali, but I went out to Taro to have a look. There were nine adult elephants in the middle of a dried out paddy field. It was the most horrible environment for elephants I’d ever seen. I had to do something for these animals. That’s how the Elephant Safari Park was born,” said Nigel.

It is almost impossible to compare that dried paddy field of ten years ago with the lush new jungle of the park. More than US$1 million has been spent recreating a shaded jungle habitat needed by elephants.

Nigel said when he took on the nine elephants already in Bali, he knew he was taking on a workload that would continue for the rest of his life. But he said recreating a healthy environment was essential if the animals were to survive away from their Sumatran jungle home.

“This area was ideal. It’s mountainous and cooler than the coast. Elephants do not do well near the coast and in dry climates. They get cataracts and skin complaints and need to live in humid cool mountain areas. They don’t like the full sun and are happy in the jungle. We have tried to replicate that here.

“That’s why we chose this area, which is a long way off the tourist track, but we figured tourists need to come to the elephants’ habitat rather than moving elephants to the tourists,” said Nigel.

He added that any idea of establishing an elephant park in Sumatra, home of the elephants, was almost an impossibility given the costs involved.

“This is a business. We receive no funding. People would not go to Sumatra … it’s hard enough to do it here,” he said, adding the cost of housing and feeding 27 elephants around 250 kilograms of food each day meant the park needed to be run as a business.

And while business may at times seem to be a dirty word, Nigel points out that it is through business that the 27 elephants at the park live healthy and happy lives. So successful and happy are the elephants that one, Fatima, is pregnant.

“We have been trying to breed here for some time, but it is extremely difficult. But we have now managed to get one female pregnant. She is due in 2009 after a 22 month gestation period.”
Unlike many captive breeding programs, the Elephant Safari Park does not use artificial insemination (AI), allowing the elephants to breed naturally in a secluded area of the park, closed to tourists.

“We don’t use AI. We have a honeymoon area north of the park. When the male comes into musth (heat) he chooses his female and they are moved to the honeymoon area. It is a huge success for us that the elephants are breeding,” said Nigel.

In the future, the park aims to develop a full research area. A lab has already been built, according to Nigel, but hospital grade equipment — such as ultrasound machines — is expensive and so far out of the park’s financial reach.

“With the lab we can do blood and urine tests here, rather than sending them to Jakarta. With an ultrasound we can monitor a baby elephant’s development. We can have ongoing research done here.

“There is very little information on elephants in Indonesia at this time and I believe we can have far more success with our breeding program with good research. If there are any hospitals out there with an old ultrasound machine, we’d love it,” Nigel said.

With the rate of destruction of Sumatra’s remaining forests, and the ongoing battle for land between elephants and farmers on the island, there are grave fears that parks, such as the Elephant Safari Park at Taro may be the only places left with living Sumatran elephants and their precious DNA.

“When people look at Sumatra’s jungles, they believe there is still plenty of jungle for the elephants. But this is simply not true. There are isolated patches of jungle between palm oil plantations, farms and towns, but they are not linked and the areas are not adequate to sustain elephant populations.

“Even if there were corridors linking these jungles, there would still be battles between farmers and elephants. In a perfect world these animals would live wild in the jungle, but this is not a perfect world,” Nigel said.

“The alternative is that these elephants remain in the dusty, underfunded camps in Sumatra where too many are dying.”

He stressed the park did not own the elephants, saying they were on loan from the Indonesian government.

“We have an obligation to care for these animals for the rest of their lives.

“This is a really sensitive issue, but if things continue as they are, the Sumatran elephant will be extinct within 20 to 50 years,” said Nigel pointing out that around half of Sumatra’s remaining wild elephant population are in camps, where breeding is unlikely.

The other half that represent a breeding population are still in the wild and constantly at risk of death at the hands of farmers, or starvation as forests are lost.

It seems that only parks like the one at Taro are able to offer these animals salvation.

“I think the park is a good example of how business can care for the environment and build a stronger economy for the local people here,” said Nigel.

Most staff members at the park have been recruited directly form Taro village.

One elderly local said the park was a critical development for the area, offering many young people work.

“This is very important to our village and we are happy to have the elephant park here,” said the elderly Balinese man.

The park pays royalties to the village for allowing the elephants to be ridden through a community jungle.

Tags: Attractions, Bali, Bali Daily, Bali Tourism News, Bali Travel, Elephant Safari Park, Exploring Bali, indonesia, Kalimantan, Kintamani Area Guide, Orangutans, Places to Go, Sumatra, Sumatran Elephant, Taro, Tours, What to Do
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Additional photos below
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We were there during two major festivalsWe were there during two major festivals
We were there during two major festivals

We also witnessed several funerals and weddings during this special time of year.

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