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Projects in Sumatra, Indonesia

Meet Linda's New Friend, Sonja

Janet Dray

Sonja and Linda

Sonja and Linda

Recently, 2-year old Sumatran elephant calf Linda (who shares her name with our AES President!), born at the Tegal Yoso Elephant Response Unit (ERU) camp in Way Kambas National Park, Sumatra, was moved with her mother Riska to the Bungur ERU camp so that 1-year old Sonja, a calf born in Bungur, would have a playmate!

The 2 mothers (Riska and Gunturia) and their daughters (Linda and S

Linda 18. August 2019 (4).JPG

Report on Sumatra Mahout Visit to Canada's African Lion Safari

Chris Rico

By Nazaruddin

From May 16 to May 22, 2019, three Mahout staff from Sumatra, members of FOKMAS (Indonesian Mahout Communication Forum), participated in a study tour of the African Lion Safari (ALS) elephant management program in Ontario, Canada. The Sumatra participants were Mr. Nazaruddin, Way Kambas National Park, Mr. Tri Sulistiyono, Way Kambas National Park, and Mr. Hidayat, Bali Elephant Camp.


The ALS facility manages a large breeding herd of Asian elephants and is currently home to 16 elephants. Of those, 10 are adult females with calves ranging in age from 6 months old to 5 years old, and there are 2 males. The facility is open to the public and provides educational demonstrations, elephant rides, and a daily lake swim for the elephants. Most of the elephants are managed in hands-on system which makes the facility an ideal site for a visit by Asian Mahouts as this is the primary elephant management system used across Asia.

The Sumatra Mahouts had met Charlie Gray, ALS Superintendent of Elephants, when he participated in an Indonesian Mahout Workshop in Way Kambas National Park in 2009 and demonstrated his method of starting handling of young calves. As several camps across Sumatra have now had multiple elephants calves born, FOKMAS felt there was a need for their members to learn more updated techniques of handling and managing captive born calves, and requested an opportunity to visit Charlie and ALS, and experience this program first-hand.

During the visit to ALS the Sumatra Mahouts were able to view elephant calf and adult training sessions, elephant foot care, public demonstrations and interactions. They also observed the daily husbandry routine of feeding, watering, bathing elephants, and cleaning enclosures.

The Sumatra staff was especially impressed with the cleanliness of all the elephant housing and enclosures at ALS, and the care taken with elephant feeding. They were very interested in the training and found the elephant management and mahout work system very disciplined. They also felt that the ALS staff is very devoted to the elephants and they appreciated the fact that there are elephant demonstrations and elephant rides offered to the public.


The Sumatra Mahouts will make a presentation about their experience to the Director General of Biodiversity Conservation in Indonesia, as well as to their direct supervisors and colleagues in their respective jobs. They will also share the information with Mahouts from across Indonesia during the next Indonesian Mahout Workshop, tentatively scheduled for late 2019.

The Sumatra staff are very grateful for the visit and thank African Lion Safari for their kind hospitality and for generously offering the opportunity to learn from Charlie Gray. They thank Charlie and his staff for all of their help and support during the visit. Finally, they thank Asian Elephant Support and the International Elephant Foundation for providing support for travel and visa expenses.

Aceh Collar Update

Chris Rico

Recently a radio collar supported by Asian Elephant Support was deployed in Aceh, Indonesia, by a team from the Aceh BKSDA (government conservation agency). The collar was put on an elephant who was already part of an earlier study project to identify movement of elephant herds and prevent conflict with local people. Replacing the old collar with a new one will extend the data collected and help inform elephant conservation management decisions.

When the team located the elephant for the collaring operation they found she had a young healthy calf. The collaring operation was successful, and both the mother and calf are doing well.

Wahdi Azmi's Visit to the US

Chris Rico

From advisor Heidi Riddle

Wahdi and I were originally invited to the US for an AZA Asian Elephant SAFE meeting in Columbus on Feb -5-6. On February 7 we flew to DC from Columbus. We went to the USFWS office where Wahdi gave a presentation to USFWS staff from the Division of International Conservation about the project "Aceh Sustainable Development Caucus" which is funded though the grant to AES that we call Mentor. The proper name of that grant is: "An innovative partnership for human-elephant conflict and forest conservation in Sumatra." On February, 8th we were invited by the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF) to visit their main office in Georgetown where Wahdi gave a presentation about the Aceh Sustainable Development Caucus. The ICCF staff was very impressed. They plan to initiate an Oceans Caucus in Indonesia and will stay in touch with Wahdi. Wahdi left for Indonesia early the morning of February, 9th. Overall the short trip was very worthwhile as both USFWS and ICCF were pleased to hear about the Aceh Caucus and the efforts though Wahdi's work to target legislators about conservation issues.

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.