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Projects in Sumatra, Indonesia

Filtering by Tag: mahouts


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.

7th Indonesian Mahout Workshop

Vanessa Gagne

A wonderful group photo of all workshop participants, until next year!

A wonderful group photo of all workshop participants, until next year!

The 7th Indonesian Mahout Workshop hosted by FOKMAS (Indonesian Mahout Communication Forum) was held from February 24-27, 2015, at the Minas government elephant training center  located in the province of Riau in Sumatra, Indonesia. Seventy participants attended the workshop and represented most of the Sumatran government elephant camps, Conservation Response Units (CRUs), and other elephant patrol units in Sumatra, as well as several zoos and safari parks from Sumatra, Java, and Bali. The majority of participants were mahouts, but some camp managers and veterinarians from private facilities also attended.

The Indonesian Mahout Workshops were initiated in 2006 at the Seblat government elephant conservation center in Bengkulu province (Sumatra) to provide an opportunity for mahouts to share information, strengthen their professionalism, and influence elephant conservation in Indonesia more effectively.

Banner showing all the sponsors that helped make the workshop possible

Banner showing all the sponsors that helped make the workshop possible

Several NGOs, including the International Elephant Foundation, Asian Elephant Support, and the Elephant Managers Association, provided workshop support to assist this professional training opportunity for mahouts. General issues discussed during the workshop included problems mahouts encounter in their elephant work and habitat conservation efforts, finding solutions to improve the care and management of Indonesia’s wild and captive elephants, and means to create an information network with colleagues throughout Asia. FOKMAS and the Mahout Workshops are supported by Indonesian government conservation agencies

During the first two days of the workshop several presentations and an informal hands-on session were given by visiting colleagues from the Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE). The group from Myanmar included 2 MTE elephant veterinarians, an MTE manager, and a senior mahout (Singaung) from an MTE timber camp.  The Indonesian mahouts were very attentive to the presentations from their Myanmar counterparts, and good discussions resulted from the interactions.  The participants from Myanmar were impressed with the level of interest from the Indonesian mahouts and expressed the intention to develop similar meeting and training opportunities for mahouts in Myanmar.  As you may remember, Asian Elephant Support has helped fund both veterinarian and mahout workshops in Myanmar.

In addition to presentations, training in field navigation using maps and GPS units was conducted during the Workshop. This training was divided into two parts: theoretical background and hands-on practice in locations within the Minas camp area. All mahouts were instructed about various skills to deal with wildlife monitoring and illegal activities such as data collection and recording, GPS instruction, human-wildlife conflict mitigation techniques, and community relations. Building capacity of the mahouts with skills for improved forest protection and wildlife conservation also promotes improved job performance of these individuals.  

The final part of the Mahout Workshop included discussion among the participants about improving elephant facilities and management in Indonesia, and a wrap up of the field navigation and GPS sessions.

Lecture time

Lecture time

These Mahout Workshops and interactions with fellow mahouts from around Asia are very important for the mahout staff across Indonesia.  There is a need to continue these regional professional exchanges and training as this has resulted in positive outcomes.  In Indonesia, the government has requested input from FOKMAS about mitigating elephant conflict.  FOKMAS is currently in the planning stages for the next Mahout Workshop and will continue hosting mahout training modules so this level of staff can be more effective participants in elephant conservation initiatives in Indonesia.

Asian Elephant Support appreciates the opportunity we have had to be a part of this educational effort thanks to the support of our donors.  So that we will be able to help fund future workshops, please consider making a donation.  Our thanks!

VESSWIC 3 Year committment

Vanessa Gagne

AES has been working with the Veterinary Society for Sumatran Wildlife Conservation (VESSWIC) since 2010 to improve the health of the captive population of elephants in Sumatra, Indonesia.

VESSWIC's goal is to contribute to the conservation of Sumatran wildlife by providing various kinds of veterinary expertise and services. To achieve their goal, a wide range of conservation activities, projects, programs, and collaborators are needed. Sustainability of these efforts is critical, and sustainability requires regular and dependable funding.

AES has supported VESSWIC with specific needs for general veterinary care, elephant patrols, veterinary and mahout workshops, and urgent care for orphaned calves.

Now we are pleased to announce that we have made a commitment to VESSWIC of $5,000 annually for three consecutive years beginning January 2014.

Sustainability is a key strategic objective for all organizations, and a reliable source of income helps us make long-term commitments to projects such as VESSWIC to produce sustainable change over time. Some examples of welfare and conservation efforts that require long-term commitments include:

  • Regular veterinary care requires expertise and regular visits over extended periods.
  • Training and professional development can require hands-on and academic learning on an annual basis. Care for an orphaned calf may extend years after the initial emergency support.
  • Animal hospitals require ongoing operational costs.
  • Effective elephant patrol units require skilled mahouts and healthy and well-trained elephants that can patrol regularly to make a difference long term.




Mahout Workshop

Chris Reifschneider

The Sumatran Mahout Communication Forum (FOKMAS) was established in 2006 and was the first time Indonesian mahouts have organized as a professional entity. The goal of FOKMAS is to improve communications and provide ongoing training via various modules during the annual mahout workshops. These workshops are supported by the Indonesian government and various NGOs, including AES. They have increased the capacity of its membership to participate and provide meaningful data for Sumatra wildlife conservation, habitat protection efforts, and improved the care of the captive elephants.

Workshop participants posting with the elephants.

Workshop participants posting with the elephants.

The 6th mahout workshop was held from November 26 – 28 at the Elephant Conservation Center in Tangkahan, Sumatra and was attended by approximately 40 mahouts from around Indonesia. Director April Yoder was able to attend as a representative of AES.

There were presentations on various topics followed by hands-on demonstrations. The demonstrations included GPS training, the use of an ultrasound, footwork, obtaining field measurements to estimate the weight of an elephant, and actually weighing the elephants on a portable scale (donated by AES). These people are on the front lines of conservation in Indonesia, and it was wonderful to see, first-hand, the level of enthusiasm and participation by the mahouts.

Hands-on demonstration

Hands-on demonstration

Along with support for the workshop, AES also provided funding for a man named Sounthone Phitsamone (Kan), from the Elephant Conservation Center in Laos, PDR to attend this workshop. AES has supported the Center on various projects over the last couple of years. We felt it would be helpful for Kan to attend this workshop to gain valuable knowledge from the mahouts in Indonesia. In turn, he would share this information with the mahouts in Laos. View the Education and Travel Sponsorships page to read more about Kan's trip to the Mahout Workshop.

Kan modeling our bumper sticker

Kan modeling our bumper sticker