Friday 4 January 2013

Holidays in Tangkahan – Part 3: The Elephants

Oh, Elephants!
Tangkahan is all about the elephants. They are wonderful, and although I still can’t really tell them apart one can see that each of them is a very special character. Augustin is my favourite. On my first trip my mum and I did the four day jungle track on her back and she just sticks. Apart from Theo, the bull, she is one of the biggest and she is an ol’ cuddle; one can just hug her trunk, lean the heads together and have a little chat eye to eye. I like to imagine that she remembers me, but so does everybody else...
Big Hug on my arrival! Augustin and Ame
Then there is Juni; she is a bit naughty and always after food. During the track she would be bathing in the river and sneakily move closer to the place where the dishes were washed in the hope to get the trunk into the leftovers of the rice pot. She had a baby called Namo last year, and then during my April visit disaster struck. A herpes virus which is infecting the heart killed Namo and Tanga, Olives baby.

Those pinapple skins look really, really tempting!
Olive is the smallest of the Elephants, she was always struggling a bit and rocking back and forth and nobody really knew why. So when she was the first one to get a baby, everybody had great hopes that she would become more confident, and then she lost the baby. I was so pleased to see now, that she is really well and rather spirited. Whenever she is in the river the mahouts have to be very vigilant because she tends to just stroll off.

Theo is having a bit of fun with Olive. He likes the petit ones!
Sari is the oldest one, and is easily recognisable from the slash in her left ear. She got a baby just before my last trip and everybody was so worried when the virus hit. But little Ame(lia) is fit and growing. It is amazing how strong these little things are. When I went into the paddock to say ‘Hello’ she came running and gave me a good push. She is only as high as my hips, but you really don’t want to engage in a wrestling game with her, she just doesn’t know how strong she is.

Ardana and Eva are the two I am struggling most to tell apart. They are same size and very similar looking to Augustin, and they are all very protective about Ame. The little one however seems to have adopted Augustin as auntie and always hangs around between her legs.

CRU – Conservation Response Unit

CRU is basically the elephant’s employer. Yes, they are hard working individuals. Well, they need to be kept on their toes and interested anyway, so the mahouts teach them all sorts of tricks. They are too smart animals and their brains need stimulation. The CRU was founded to look after elephants and mahouts. There are many CRU units and a lot of them are located in the Aceh province up North of Tangkahan. This is where the elephants originally came from; they were wild animals and were driven out of the forest by logging. Like African elephants they follow their age old trails, they know where and when the best food is growing and ever so often they stumble over newly built settlements or palm or rubber plantations. For the elephants those encounters mean either death or captivity. The ones who now live in CRU camps are well looked after and their main job is to patrol the rainforest. They even are successful in driving wild elephants back into the forest and teaching them new trails, thus helping to maintain the wild population.

Elephants cost a lot of money however, so the rest of their time they are working for the eco-tourism business to top up the CRU budgets. Last year the Tangkahan unit was hit quite hard financially: The three mums with their babies couldn’t go on elephant tracking, and when the virus hit the elephant camp became an intensive care unit and no business was undertaken. Since a few month funding from NGOs broke away as well, so right now things are looking really rather grim. About £4000 per month need to be raised to keep the elephants in Tangkahan.

Conservation Funding

Just a little detour and definitely not comprehensive information, but bits and pieces I picked up. Finding funding for projects is such a difficult yet profitable business. Apparently there are websites out there listing the organisations, which grant funding. However, I was told that the focus of those organisations has changed. In the past it was ‘species protection’. So, you could apply for elephants, bears, tigers and so on and if your cause was found worthwhile you could do your stuff. Now the focus is on community driven conservation projects, you have to show that what you do fits a greater scheme. The Tangkahan elephants are perfectly positioned for that as they are a big part of the community eco-tourism scheme which has as its main focus to enable the locals to do rainforest conservation. They have a well trained group of rangers who patrol the forest and work as guides as well; the elephants patrol the forest, so all should be fine and well, just that there is this funding gap. The organisation, which sustained the unit basically since the beginnings, has pulled out and new funding is only applied for now. So, soon you might see some blog posts under ‘Bloody Hell... what did I do now?’ because I will be killing myself in some sort of charity challenge to help close the gap.

The fun part!

Well, just seeing them when you arrive, already is quite something. It is a short drive along a bumpy road of mud and pebbles from the visitor centre to Green Lodge. Their paddock is right at the corner where the road bends into the access to the lodge. Tall palm trees give shade – elephants can get sun burn and overheat easily – and there are palm leaves on the ground to munch on.

Then you may go off for a wash – buy a voucher at CTO and give it to the mahouts, first. The elephants line up, get a bit of food, you can take pictures and then they take trunk to tail, marching like little school children down to the river. Once they arrive it’s toilet time. Firstly, you don’t want to have that in the water, and secondly, due to their camp lifestyle digestion is rather slow, so they need a bit of help to keep the guts healthy – it is a bit gross, though. As soon as the business is sorted and they got over their initial boisterous joy of being in the water, they settle down and you can wash them and later feed them some bananas, and they may even show you a few of their tricks.

Me and my girl, Augustin

Jony with Augustine and Abdullah with Olive, showing off some circus skills
On arrival back at the lodge they each collect a pile of palm leaves and to take back to the paddock for a much and a rest before the elephant riding tours start.

June 2011, I think it is Tanga and Olive
I found that either long trousers or shorts with a soft rim are best for a ride. Otherwise the seam might be rubbing on the saddle. Strong shoes are a good choice as well, and use Deet (insect repellent) and sun block – Deet reacts with sunlight badly and can cause burns if you don’t use sun block or good clothing – and off you go into one of the best adventures a person can have.

June 2011, wearing the shorts which taught me the hard way
Coming up: A bit of hygiene
More pictures of the RAW June 2011 Elephant Odyssey

1 comment:

  1. I just love animals! And another news… I just found out that Manila Zoo has a cute elephant named Mali, and she is the only elephant in the Philippines! She has lived there for almost all of her lives, for more than 30 years. The zoo should feel like her sweet and cozy home now. But then, I read some articles in, and I noticed that Mali is in fact sad and lonely! Look at her here: She is like a prisoner, who cannot spend her days with her friends, roam in vast territories, and have delicious adequate food! She even suffers from foot problems. Why does she deserve this? :( Please Help Her!