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Projects in Sumatra, Indonesia

Wild Elephant in Aceh fitted with GPS Collar

Chris Rico


This past year AES purchased a GPS collar for wild elephants in the Aceh region of Sumatra.  At the end of November, a wild female was fitted with one of the collars. Below is the translated text of the Indonesian article (please click here to see the original).

“BANDA ACEH , - Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Center ( BKSDA ) team has just treated a mother elephant who inhabited the forest of Mount Biram, Aceh Besar. Previously, the elephant's mother was reported by people around the forest to have appeared for several weeks. The community also reported a wound at the base of the tail and the left chest which worsened on the parent elephant. After receiving the news, the Head of the Aceh BKSDA Sapto Adji Prabowo instructed the handling. On Wednesday (11/28/2018), the BKSDA team and Wildlife Ambulance from the PKSL (Center for Wildlife Studies) FKH Unsyiah immediately observed. Unfortunately, despite finding the presence of the elephant mother, a dark day made the team delay the operation that would be carried out. Thursday (11/29/2018), the team managed to trace the footsteps of elephants and make perfect anesthesia. Next, the team handles injuries and installs a GPS collar.

"Looking at the injury and infection conditions that have occurred, the team decided to amputate above the last joint of the injury that has been damaged and decayed," wrote a press release received by on Friday (11/30/2018). "The amputation operation went smoothly and antibiotics and vitamins were given either parenterally (injection) or topical (directly to the wound)," he added. Installation of GPS Collar As mentioned, besides getting wound handling, the elephant's mother is also fitted with a GPS collar. This object serves to track the existence of the elephant mother. "With the installation of the GPS Collar, it is expected that the elephants who are undergoing treatment will be monitored daily movements every few hours according to the arrangement that the GPS unit will send coordinates and can be monitored directly on a digital map," the BKSDA wrote. "The GPS Collar data is further expected to provide more information about the pattern of elephant habitat use and its connection with other habitats in different districts," they continued. In addition to monitoring the movements of individual elephants being treated, this GPS collar is also expected to be able to see the pattern of elephant migration in the region. "The GPS collar data hopefully in the next two years will confirm the elephant's migration path that has been separated from the main group, to later assist in further decision making and planning in the efforts to conserve the remaining Sumatran elephants," said the Aceh BKSDA.

"Data on the daily movement of elephants can also be used as an early warning system in an effort to deal with elephant conflicts where we can predict the path and timing of elephant movements so that anticipation can be carried out earlier," they stressed. Sapto said that currently the Aceh BKSDA has succeeded in installing 6 GPS collars that are scattered in several important elephant habitats. The object is a donation from the International Elephant Foundation (IEF) & Asian elephant support (AES) which is channeled through the Unsyiah FKSL. Installing a GPS collar on a parent elephant in Aceh Historical Value Wahdi Azmi, chairman of the Unsyiah PKSL-FKH who led the PKSL medical team in this operation explained that Mount Biram is a historically valuable area for elephants in Aceh. "I was initially surprised at the attitude of the people of this area who were not angry with the presence of elephants, because they were toppled by a number of papaya and banana trees. access, 'Wahdi said. It is estimated, the elephant on Mount Biram has a close kinship with the white elephant. While the white elephant itself has historical value for the people of Aceh because it was once the pet of the Mughal Sultan around 1579 AD This is why there are still genuine Acehnese people who are noble and love elephants. They are also very brave to want to treat directly even though they know this is a wild and dangerous elephant, Wahdi said.”

Bunta's Poachers Brought to Justice

Chris Rico

This past May, the International Elephant Foundationchallenged us to match their $500 donation as a reward for the poaching of the bull Bunta in Aceh, Sumatra.  Together we supplied $1,000 for the capture of the poachers.  What makes this so special is that AES and IEF matched the $1000 that the community pooled together via BKDSA Aceh.  We are happy to report the assailants were caught and prosecuted. Please follow this link to read the article.

Expanding the Conservation Network of Asian Mahouts

Chris Rico

Spotlight on our very own Mamatha, Nazar, and Heidi Riddle:  AES has long provided opportunities for mahouts to gain more hands on knowledge about elephant husbandry.  We have supported FOKMAS in Sumatra for many years and we were able to fund travel for two Indian mahouts from forest camps in Karnataka, India, to the FOKMAS workshop to share information.  The forest camps in Karnataka also use elephants in human care to mitigate human-elephant conflict; exactly like their Sumatran counterparts in the CRUs and ERUs.  The following article explains how the two country’s mahouts were able to find common ground and lift one another up with education.

FOKMAS Conference

Chris Rico

Check out this video from FOKMAS from their conference this past February.  FOKMAS is a group of mahouts in Sumatra that gather each year to share information about best husbandry practices, veterinary care, and living with elephants.

Update on Elena, ERU Tegal Yoso

Chris Rico

The approximately 2-year old female elephant calf named Elena had been rescued by the ERU Tegal Yoso last December because she suffered from serious injury in her left hind leg, which made it impossible for her to bear weight on the swollen leg. During their regular patrols, the ERU team had observed her for several weeks and noticed her strength and body condition constantly declining and was hardly able to follow her herd, so they decided to take her in captivity to provide care and treatment for her.

Elena with her siblings in the  river

Elena with her siblings in the  river

Due to the care in the ERU Tegal Yoso, Elena’s condition has slowly but continuously improved and now almost has fully recovered and is able to use and bear weight on her left hind leg again. Her recovery was not only supported by the mahouts and veterinarian but also by the two pregnant female patrol elephants, Rika and Dona. Both female elephants from the beginning accepted her and adopted her as part of their family, and very soon after her arrival, Elena formed close bonds with both of them. This has not changed after Riska and Dona, who had been mated by wild bulls while grassing in the forest during nighttime, gave birth to their own calves on the 20th and 22nd of March 2017. Elena has formed close bonds to her little siblings, Linda and Cory, and forms a nearly natural family group with them and their mothers.

Best wishes and appreciation for your continued support,
  Dr. Christopher Stremme.

Check out this video of Elena playing in the water with her new family!

Mahout Workshop 2017

Chris Rico

For several years AES has been proud to support the Indonesian Mahout Workshops and this year is no exception. However, the 2017 workshop was unique in that it brought together two groups of mahouts from different countries that are both supported by AES.

AES has supported Mamatha’s tireless work in southern India to provide educational opportunities for mahouts.  This year Mamatha arranged for two mahouts from the state of Karnataka to attend the Indonesian workshop.  It was a wonderful opportunity for the two cultures to share information and experiences.

The 2017 Mahout Workshop was held from May 16th through the 18th in Lampung province, Indonesia and included a wide range of topics including the overall health, feeding strategies, the use of an ultrasound machine, use of GPS units and software updating skills, and incorporating technology into their operations.

Workshop participants

Workshop participants

Because India has such a long and intricate history with elephants, the Karnataka mahouts were surprised to learn that the elephant tradition in Indonesian is only about 30 years old.  Even with a much shorter history with elephants, the Indonesian mahouts provided valuable information on the importance of the use of technology and the proper usage of tools to care for elephants.

Two Karnataka mahouts (right) being instructed on the use of a GPS unit by two Indonesian mahouts (left)

Two Karnataka mahouts (right) being instructed on the use of a GPS unit by two Indonesian mahouts (left)

In turn, the Karnataka mahouts stunned the vets when they visually determined that an elephant had never conceived. They also taught the Indonesian mahouts the importance of proper feeding strategies, allowing elephants to roam freely in the forest, and the importance of cleaning the tusks.  There was also a lot of discussion on caring for baby elephants. 


This workshop is an excellent example of how important it is to provide these types of educational opportunities. With your continued support, we will continue to support the people that care for elephant throughout Asia.  

Mobile Veterinary Program: Elephants and Sun Bears, too!

Chris Rico

The vet program has been quite active especially since the wildlife ambulance has been fully operating since the end of last year. Currently it is providing the veterinary assistance for GPS collaring program for HEC mitigation in Aceh which is run in collaboration with BKSDA and researchers from the University. The first elephant was collared in east Aceh the end of December, the second one in early January in Aceh Besar, and the collaring operation for third one in Aceh Jaya was completed in February.


In early January the wildlife ambulance provided the veterinary assistance for the rescue of an elephant baby of about 6 months of age. This baby had been abandoned: it is unclear if its mother may have been killed or for other reason could not follow its fast moving herd that had been driven in difficult terrain during a conflict situation. The baby had already strolled around in the area observed by local people and become increasingly dehydrated and weak.  It was not possible to reconnect the baby to its herd and it needed fluid therapy, food supplements, and some wound treatments. After initial treatment on site, the baby was transferred to the ECC in Saree and currently is cared for there with assistance from the wildlife ambulance.

The Wildlife ambulance recently also assisted the BKSDA with the rescue of two snared sun bears: one was released directly after it was freed from the snare; due to very serious injuries. The other bear had to be taken to the vet faculty for surgery and remains under treatment at the BKSDA Aceh quarantine facility where the ambulance staff provide regular care.  We are involving our students in this care to give them some hands-on experience with the care of injured wildlife.  We hope that the recovery of this second bear will progress within the next 2 months to a level that will enable us to release this animal back into the wild.

Bundles of joy from Sumatra

Chris Rico


We are extremely excited to share some wonderful news from Sumatra! And what could be more exciting than a baby elephant! How about TWO baby elephants?! On March 20th, Riksa gave birth to the first baby born at the Tegal Yoso Elephant Response Unit (ERU) in Way Kambas National Park. The female calf weighed in at 190 pounds and is the second calf for 23-year-old Riska. As a special surprise for us, this little girl was named Linda after AES founder and president, Linda Reifschneider. Seven days later, on March 27th, Donna gave birth to a health male calf named Cory. This, not so little, boy weighed in at 270 pounds.

And you, our donors, had a part in these miraculous events too!  As a direct result of your support, AES was able to donate funds to build an electrical fence enclosure for the elephants to give birth.  This gave the mothers more room during labor, but also allowed the mahouts to remain close to assist, if needed.

We couldn’t be more proud to have played a role in these wonderful events and we can’t thank you enough for your continued support.

Craving more baby elephants? Check out the videos below!

Linda and Cory taking a bath

New calf in Sumatra gets to know head mahout Nazzarudin while playing in the rain.

Update From the Field: Conservation Response Units

Chris Rico

This past February the seven operating Conservation Response Units (CRUs) in Aceh, Sumatra were notified that a restructuring of the forestry department would leave them without funds for up to six months.  The change in governance to provincial forestry officials will take several months.  This has left the mahouts in some areas without their basic needs being met.  Unfortunately, as we all know, money matters can take an eternity within a bureaucracy.

Monitoring migration of wild elephants

Monitoring migration of wild elephants

When AES heard of the emergency situation we were able to provide funds within a 24 hour period after having received the news.  Because we are a small, close-knit board of directors we were able to respond in the knick of time.  Thankfully, due to our dedicated supporters, we had the funds available for the CRUs to continue their mission to mitigate human-elephant conflict around Way Kambas National Park.  We couldn’t have done it without your support.  So on behalf of the elephants and mahouts in the CRUs, we say thank you.  

Drought in Way Kambas

Vanessa Gagne

Enduring the dry season in Way Kambas National Park (WKNP), Indonesia, August 2016

The month of August brought with it increased temperatures, dried grassland, and big challenges for the WKNP Elephant Response Units (EURs).  The dry season gave rise to the illegal burning of alang-alang grasses and in this one month alone, the ERUs who call the park home reported 22 forest fires. These fires were believed to have been started by wildlife hunters to facilitate wild deer hunts mainly in the Bungur and Tegal Yoso, with the latter hit hardest.  

    Managing forest fires was not an anticipated task for the WKNP mahouts who have not been trained to fight fires.  Due to the unpredicted need and lack of budget for firefighting equipment the ERUs rose to the challenge and worked feverishly using tree branches to help extinguish the fire. Water was also used from their water bottles to saturate surrounding areas in order to prevent the fires from spreading. The Bungur ERU found one case where an area of 2 hectares of grassland had been destroyed by fires.  Tegal Yoso had the most prolific illegal burning within their patrol region reporting 21 cases.  In 10 instances the grasslands were burnt 2-3 days previous to patrols.  The remaining 11 cases the Tegal Yoso ERUs encountered were active fires which required immediate attention by mahouts to prevent further destruction of the park.

    The three ERUs assigned to the park, patrol a very large area that stretches over 125,261.3 hectares. On patrols they continually try to deter and prevent any illegal forest activities while monitoring and protecting wildlife.  An enormous thank you goes to the ERU teams who rose to the difficult challenges they faced and put their safety secondary to protecting the biome and the inhabitants of the WKNP.   Our donors also deserve many thanks for helping supporting the patrols the ERUs carryout.  In the case of emergency situations, such as the ones the Way Kambas encountered in August, every donation is crucial to the future of the wildlife and forest protected by the ERUs.

ERU Video

Vanessa Gagne

Straight from Sumatra, Indonesia!

Check out this video of the Margahayu ERU (Elephant Response Unit) team when they meet a herd of wild elephants! This is one of the many reasons these teams are so valuable.   Riding on the trained elephants, it is amazing how close they can get to the wild elephants.  They get a true assessment of the numbers, condition, and sex ratios of elephants in Sumatra.  The information they are able to gather will be used to determine conservation strategies to help save this critically endangered species.

Way Kambas ERU Update

Vanessa Gagne

A busy February and March for Way Kambas ERU’s...

With our continued support, the Elephant Response Units (ERU’s) in Sumatra, Indonesia have had a busy February and March.  Their work not only helps to alleviate elephant-human conflict but also helps protect the Way Kambas National Park from illegal activities and ensure the survival of present Sumatran elephant populations.

The Bungur, Tegal Yoso, and Mraghayu ERU’s conduct regular monitoring patrols inside and along the National Park boarders.  During these two months, while on patrol the ERU’s removed and destroyed five wildlife snares inside the park as well as a bridge for logging camps. Six instances of illegal logging were also reported to the National Parks Department.  Multiple plots of illegal grass cutting for grazing were noted and one group of cattle was found with no sign of ownership.   Three dead elephants were found within park boarders which included an adult male, adult female, and one calf.

Mahout with disarmed snare

Mahout with disarmed snare

February was an active month for wild elephants in and around the park.  Elephant tracks are a good way of verifying elephant activity and were found over fifteen times during the two months inside the park.  Groups of elephants that were directly observed ranged in size from 5-30 elephants. A herd of 8 elephants with two female calves were observed in February by the Tegal Yoso ERU and once again the following month by the Bungur ERU.

The direct involvement of local community members with the ERUs is vital to ensuring the community has a shared sense of investment in and responsibility for the future of wild elephants. A huge thank you goes to the ERU teams, forest police, and the local communities who are coming together to help save the critically endangered Sumatran elephant. Thanks to all of our donors for helping make these patrols possible.

ERUs to the Rescue: Mom and Calf

Vanessa Gagne

Once again we are so proud to be supporting the Elephant Response Units (ERU's) in Sumatra, Indonesia. The work that they do every day is critical to the survival of the wild Sumatran elephant population.  On December 1, 2015 the Margahayu ERU learned that a wild female elephant and calf had become stuck in a muddy trench on the border of Way Kambas National Park.  

The ERU team located the pair and attempted to rescue the elephants, but it proved to be quite difficult. The team returned with the ERU captive elephants and with their help they were able to successfully rescue the wild pair.  The wild elephants returned to the rest of their herd that was waiting in the National Park.

A huge thank you to all of the ERU teams that are dedicated to saving the critically endangered Sumatran elephant and to all of our donors that make it possible.


Reptile Workshop for Vet Students

Vanessa Gagne

Course participants

Course participants

While Asian Elephant Support’s funding to Dr. Stremme focuses on elephant needs and issues, his work at the veterinary university in Aceh needs to address all wildlife that share the same ecosystem.  Recently, Dr. Stremme invited reptile expert, Dr. Sonja Luz, WRS Director for Research and Conservation, to lecture, provide practical demonstrations, and hands on training with his students.  These are the future veterinarians who will be responsible for the care and conservation of all of Sumatra’s wildlife and we wanted to share some of the workshop pictures with you.  

Safe reptile handling

Safe reptile handling

Blood draw on Moniro Lizard

Blood draw on Moniro Lizard

ERU Field Report

Vanessa Gagne

A herd of 15 Sumatran elephants including one calf observed by the ERU in November 2015

A herd of 15 Sumatran elephants including one calf observed by the ERU in November 2015

Way Kambas National Park (WKNP) is located at the southern tip of Sumatra on the eastern coast of Lampung province. It is one of the oldest reserves in Indonesia and occupies 1,300 sq km.  Home to the critically endangered Sumatran elephant and many other endangered species, WKNP is a treasure that needs to be protected.  

AES has had the opportunity to support the Conservation Response Units (CRU’s), also referred to as Elephant Response Units (ERU’s), over the last several years.  This includes recently donating funds to supply the CRU elephants with much needed food during an exceptionally long dry season. With the help of the communities surrounding the Park, these CRU’s teams do monthly patrols in the forest to monitor for illegal wildlife activity and to monitor wild elephant populations. They also educate the people in the communities on the importance of preserving the forests and help mitigate human-elephant conflicts.

We want to share with you a special look into the activities of the CRU’s in WKNP. Please visit here to see a monthly report outlining the activities.

And rest assured, your donations are making a difference for Asian elephants!


Vanessa Gagne

Prepared by Elena Pranatio and Dr. Christopher Stremme

The Conservation Response Units (CRU) in the Way Kambas National Park (WKNP), which are employing captive elephants and mahouts from the Way Kambas Elephant Conservation Center to conduct human elephant conflict management and habitat patrols, are hugely effective and contribute much to reducing human-elephant conflict (HEC) and securing the WKNP habitat.

The first two CRUs  were established with the construction of permanent basecamps in 2011 and 2013 on the northwestern border of the WKNP in the areas of Bungur and Tegal Yoso.  This is one of the HEC hotspots having caused ongoing loss of almost all crops close to the WKNP border; therefore leading to great resentment against the WKNP and wild elephants from local communities.

The two CRU base camps at Bungur and Tegal Yoso each have 5 captive elephants used for habitat patrols and, if needed, to drive off wild herds that  venture into farmland. During daily routine patrols the two units cover more than 15 km of WKNP border and a total of about 400km² of national park area. Regular staff of each CRU unit consists of 5 mahouts from the WKNP and 4 people from the local communities who are employed and trained as permanent staff of the CRU teams. Besides conducting patrols and wild elephant drives inside the national park, the CRU teams have also encouraged teams from local communities to build observation posts outside the WKNP on its border area and conduct regular night watches to detect wild elephants early and guard their valuable crops. The teams from the local communities have been trained in techniques of how to drive away wild elephants if they get close to the WKNP border and if needed,  get backed up by the experienced CRU teams with its elephants.

A communication system, via mobile phones, between the CRU teams and the local community teams has been established and functions as an early warning tool ensuring ongoing information exchange between the CRU and local communities about elephant migrations close to the WKNP border.  This allows for  the timely coordination for needed crop guarding and wild elephant drives.

Currently 11 villages in the Bungur – Tegal Yoso area benefit from and participate in this HEC mitigation strategy with the CRUs. As a result of this work, the occurrence of incidents where wild elephants actually succeeded to pass the WKNP border and reach farmland has been reduced by more than 70%. The actual loss of crops due to the early warning and quick intervention has been reduced by more than 90%.

Due to the massive decrease of loss of crops, and thus increased income, the local communities have become much more willing to withdraw from most illegal activities inside the WKNP such as logging, cultivation, poaching, and cattle grazing and have become willing to accept the CRU’s law enforcement role for the protection of the WKNP area as undisturbed habitat for wild elephants. This has led to a reduction of such illegal activities by more than 90% in the Bungur-Tegal Yoso area.

Due to the success of the Bungur and Tegal-Yoso CRUs, in 2014 the head of the National Park has asked donors such as IEF, AES, and USFWS, who have supported the establishment and operation of the CRUs, for support to establish a new third CRU at the southwestern border of the WKNP, which is another HEC hotspot. IEF, USFWS, and AES agreed to support the establishment of this new CRU and in November 2014 the construction of the new basecamp in the Margahayu region was started. In January 2015 the CRU team were based at the camp while still under construction. The initial team consisted of 5 captive elephants and 5 mahouts from the WKNP Elephant Conservation Center. Shortly after the team arrived 4 young local people from nearby communities were employed and started to be trained as CRU team members. Training for such new team members consists of:

  • Captive elephant management and care
  • Habitat navigation by using basic orientation points in the area, maps, and GPS
  • Wild elephant behavior, approach and driving strategies
  • Conservation laws and regulations

Initial staff training and camp construction were completed in April 2015 and the new CRU is fully operational. During its daily routine patrols a border area of about 10km is covered. During the past months the CRU team has constantly monitored the movement of wild elephant herds close to the WKNP border. Already several situations have been encountered by the team where a large herd of more than 30 animals intended to cross the NP border to venture into villages and farmland. The team has managed these incidents by driving the elephants away from the border back into the forest area of the WKNP. Such drive operations often last for several days because during the drive, the wild elephants initially retreat in the nearby forest, but during the next night they try to enter into the farmland again. This means the CRU team has to stand by on guard for several days until the wild herds finally give up and retreat back deeper into the WKNP forest area.

The people from local communities start to respond positively to the presence and activities of the new CRU as major crop raiding events by wild elephants have been prevented since the CRU has become active.  The team has started to approach the people from the local communities to start building joint crop guarding and HEC mitigation strategies like in Bungur and Tegal-Yoso. The CRU team has already encouraged and supported the first community members for the construction of two observation posts outside the WKNP directly on its border with farmland. These posts are now already used for crop guarding during the night time by local community members.

The CRUs have become a very successful and important part of the WKNP habitat protection and HEC mitigation strategy. The successful implementation of the day to day field work is ensured by teams of highly motivated and skilled staff from the national park in close collaboration with local communities.

A major obstacle is that the WKNP agency itself does not have sufficient resources to fully finance the ongoing operation of CRUs. Therefor the continuation and possible expansion of the successful CRU work relies much on external funding support.