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Projects in Sumatra, Indonesia

Filtering by Tag: elephants

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.


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.

Parasite Prevention for Pachyderms

Vanessa Gagne

While elephants in range countries face many challenges in their daily lives, one of the medical issues they encounter is internal parasites.  Elephants can become infected by ingesting food or water that contains parasite larva.  Parasites can contribute to an overall decline in health by causing such conditions as anemia, weight loss, and diarrhea. In extreme cases, parasites may overwhelm an organ or body system resulting in death.  The lack of appetite and poor food utilization caused by a large number of parasites can also inhibit the growth and maturation of young elephants. Occasionally, the adult parasites can be seen in the feces, but an infestation can also be detected by examining a fecal sample using a sedimentation and flotation method.

AES has been working with the Veterinary Society for Sumatran Wildlife Conservation (VESSWIC) to improve the health of the captive population of elephants in Sumatra, Indonesia. Some of the parasites found in elephants in Sumatra include: Strongylus spec., Strongyloides spec. Ascaridae, Fasciola spec. Paramphistomoidea and Anoplocephala spec.  To help control parasites in elephants, VESSWIC routinely deworms the captive elephant population every 3-4 months. Ivermectin is a broad spectrum anti parasitic that is often given in combination with other medications to treat internal parasites in elephants.

As a result of conversations with the VESSWIC veterinary staff and our international advisors, the board unanimously voted to make a donation to VESSWIC to purchase 250 mg of Ivermectin to help treat the elephants in Sumatra.  Having accurate weights is critical for determining the proper dosage of any medication.  The portable scales that AES purchased last year will be put to good use in determining the weight of the elephants, so they are given the correct amount of dewormer.

Sometimes it can be very tricky to get this intelligent animal to take medication.  If they can taste it, they will often just spit it out.  One way to make sure the medication is taken is to hide it in a favorite food.  In Sumatra, they use fruits such as bananas and pineapples to help mask the taste of the dewormer.

Update from the field

Vanessa Gagne

We are delighted to share a recent update from Dr. Christopher Stremme, the wildlife veterinarian working with Vesswic in Sumatra:

"Hello from Sumatra,

We are just back from Aceh yesterday and after the problems with some terrorist groups in some of the remote areas in central and west Aceh have calmed down and the security situation has improved, we were able and allowed again to visit all CRU's for regular health checks and treatments of the CRU elephants.  The trip lasted for a week, during which we visited the Aceh elephant training centre and its satellite in north east Aceh and three CRUs in central and west Ache, conducted health checks and treatments (dewormings, wound treatments, etc.) for a total of 38 elephants.

Like always since the past year we were accompanied and assisted by Dr. Arman Sayuti from the veterinary faculty of the Banda Aceh University.  Since he has started to volunteer with our program on a regular basis, he significantly has developed his experience and knowledge about elephant health care and management and, hopefully, on the long run can further help to develop better expertise and education about veterinary needs for conservation and welfare of endangered wildlife in Aceh.

Best wishes from Sumatra,


We think this update highlights some amazing aspects of the CRU program in Sumatra:

  • Efficiency in treatment means many elephants are provided care in a reasonable period of time.
  • Not only the mahouts are developing their skills, but also Dr. Arman Sayuti, who will, in turn, be able to teach others.
  • Vesswic and Dr. Stremme make the very most of every dollar and are very appreciative of our support.
Obtaining body measurements for weight estimation

Obtaining body measurements for weight estimation

An accurate weight is needed to determine a safe and effective dosage for many medications. Vets and mahouts work together to measure an elephant (top picture) in order to estimate its weight for the proper dose of deworming medication (bottom picture).   However, weights arrived at by the measurement formula vary among age groups of elephants so it is not always accurate.  In addition, from the photo you can imagine how time consuming it is to measure each elephant.

Hiding dewormer in bananas!

Hiding dewormer in bananas!

A portable scale allows elephants to step up on a base, stand still for just a few seconds then walk off.  Such a scale provides accuracy and efficiency for safe and effective dosing, and we would like to provide this tool to the CRU program.   

The cost per scale, including delivery to Sumatra is $3100, and our goal is to provide two scales. We hope you will consider making a gift toward this purchase. Should you wish to give $3100 for one scale, we will have a plaque made to put on the Pelicase to acknowledge your donation!

Please read our project story and please visit our website, or contact us to learn more.