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Wild elephants


3,000 ~ 4,000

Charles Santiapillai


500 ~ 1,000

Charles Santiapillai

Domesticated elephants


PHPA (1996)



FAO (Anon., 1995d)

Even though Indonesia did not have a single domesticated elephant in 1985, by the year 2001 - if things go as planned - Indonesia should have 1,500 domesticated elephants. This population will constitute roughly 10% of the world total, or more than all the Asian elephants in Europe, North America, and the rest of the world except for Asia itself. This situation has arisen because Indonesia is the only country in the region to have once had a robust and sophisticated elephant-keeping tradition, to have had that tradition become extinct, and to have then transplanted a new tradition from foreign shores. That newly introduced tradition is now evolving into something totally Indonesian.

The island of Sumatra (and, earlier, even neighboring Java) long had domesticated elephants, most of them apparently kept by sultans for reasons of court and ceremony rather than any widespread practical use. Numbers were quite substantial, according to Olivier (1978b), and most of the elephants were captured in the wild by royalty. (Although surely - given Sumatra’s wealth, given the region’s bustling maritime trade, and given a likely desire for elephants larger than the smallish Sumatran subspecies, Elephas maximus sumatranus - many animals must have been imported.) Unfortunately, according to Santiapillai (1992), “The art of domesticating elephants disappeared in Sumatra with the dissolution of the Kingdoms of the Sultans and the demise of their hegemony over much of Sumatra with the arrival of the Dutch colonial powers about three hundred years ago.” The tradition declined slowly to finally die out in the late nineteenth century. Rather poignantly, Olivier (1978b) writes, “Until recently there were chiefs who maintained empty elephant stables as part of their heritage, so great was the dignity of possessing those now unattainable animals.”

By the 1970s it was hard to imagine any large-scale keeping of elephants ever returning to the island, but by the early 1980s, however, totally unforeseen problems with wild elephants had created a situation where re-establishing a keeping tradition seemed imperative rather than impossible. The ingredient that was now “unattainable” was not elephants, of which there were plenty in the wild (too many in some opinions), but rather a complete lack of the mahouts and khoonkies needed to capture and keep them. Indonesia boldly brought in men and elephants from Thailand and captured its first wild elephants in 1986. Presently, as of late 1996, there are nearly 600 domesticated elephants in Indonesia.

As for published information about Indonesia, there is very little hard data and not much general writing. Krishnamurthy (1992b) gives the only picture of elephant keeping, camp management, and veterinary medicine, seen through the focus of Way Kambas, Indonesia’s first Elephant Training Centre.

Wild elephants

The absence of domesticated elephants in the 1970s seemed quite natural considering the apparently very small numbers of wild elephants. Olivier (1978a) wrote, “I doubt very much the maximum total is much over 350....” and, basically, all observers seemed to agree. Olivier quotes a paper which gave 3,000 wild elephants for Sumatra in 1929; he accepts that figure, seemingly assumes a catastrophic loss, and concludes that, “The elephant would currently appear to be more endangered in Sumatra than any other country in Asia.” There was not a single domesticated elephant on the island and Indonesia’s wild elephants seemed at a quiet dead end, but the calm was deceptive.

“Between 1950 and 1987,” wrote Sterba (1989) of migration from Java and Bali, “more than two million settlers carved cities, farms and villages out of elephant terrain in Sumatra.” The sudden invasion of so many slash-and-burn farmers caused large numbers of previously secretive and shy elephants to suddenly become highly visible in particularly unpleasant ways: crop raiding and killing people. It gradually became clear that wild numbers were much higher than anybody had ever considered, and the estimated numbers climbed inexorably. “The tendency has always been to underestimate....,” wrote Blouch and Haryanto (1985) describing a 1982 drive at Air Sugihan (Sumatra Selatan) which was expected to produce 80 elephants but in fact flushed out 232 elephants, not counting some left behind.

Two later surveys, according to Santiapillai (1985c), produced “more realistic estimates of elephant numbers, between 2,800 and 4,800 wild elephants, with the minimum probably closer to the truth.” Santiapillai and Jackson (1990) estimated 2,800 and 5,000 wild elephants. A later estimate (Sukumar and Santiapillai, 1993) states that there could be between 3,600 to 4,500 wild elephants on Sumatra.

Dr. Santiapillai’s latest working estimates (Pers. comm., 1996) are 3,000-4,000 for Sumatra and 500-1,000 for Kalimantan. The staff of both the Directorate of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHPA) and Worldwide Fund for Nature-Indonesia Programme (WWF-IP) quite freely admit, as surely would Dr. Santiapillai, that they are not confident in such estimates and would like more hard information.

Sumatra is thought to have at least eight protected areas which each hold over 100 wild elephants. Sukumar and Santiapillai (1993) wrote that of 47 identified wild elephant populations, there were nine “non-viable” populations of under 25 elephants, six in Production Forests and three, now extinct, in Protection Forests.

Human-elephant conflict

Reaching the heart of the matter, Santiapillai (1985) says, “Although both man and elephant have coexisted through time, at any but the lowest density they are fundamentally incompatible.” Indonesia has a population of about 195 million people, making it the world’s fourth most populous country. As a result of massive transmigration, the Sumatran province of Lampung, which in 1905 had a population of only 150,000, had soared to six million land-hungry people in 1996. Wild elephants were not included in planning land use according to Samedi {1996}. A WWF-IP representative, Russell Betth, was quoted in a news story (Jusuf, 1994) as saying that Sumatra’s elephants have well-known seasonal migration patterns and that it was surprising that government had not considered these while planning.

Conflict was inevitable. Newspapers began to sport headlines such as “Pillaging Pachyderms,” “Elephants on Rampage,” and “Elephants Attack Transmigrants.” Sterba (1989) quotes Prof. Soeriaatmadja as saying, “When you plant coconuts this close to the jungle, without a buffer zone, it’s like opening a restaurant for elephants.” (Ironically, at least once the police used domesticated elephants to destroy the crops of illegal squatters being evicted from a state forest.) Santiapillai (1994b) vividly describes pocketed herds and subsequent crop raiding.

Crop raiding is particularly serious in Riau province. A newspaper story quotes the head of Riau’s plantation protection office, Suparto Broto, as saying that in 1995 up to December wild elephants had damaged at least 113,665 hectares of rubber and oil palm plantations, at a cost of over 16 billion rupiahs (US$6.9 million). Bangun (1996) writes, “Indonesia’s national newspaper Kompas has reported that 851,198 hectares of rubber, oil palm and coconut plantations have been destroyed by elephants in the past three years, with losses estimated at US$6 million.” No compensation is paid for crops destroyed.

Wild elephants not only raided crops but sometimes even killed people. The most human deaths on Sumatra are in Lampung province, about five a year, while the rest of the island has another five, according to Harjanto Sukotjo and Hayani Suprahman {1996}, both local officials of the Directorate of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHPA). (Some compensation is paid for deaths, usually only funeral costs, but only informally because there is no official budget.) The PHPA in 1994 formally announced that 14 people in Lampung had been killed by elephants between 1989 and 1993. Much misquoted by the press, this announcement illustrates the latent tendency of the media to distort reality. Numerous international reporters first drew on local newspaper stories and then began to cannibalize and distort each other; somehow the original “14 deaths” over four years conveniently became “a dozen” and then “a dozen a year” in several stories, culminating in Della-Giacoma’s article (1995) referring to “the people of Lampung, a dozen of whom are expected to die this year as Sumatra’s elephants run amok.”


‘Poaching’ is the word most often used to describe the killing of elephants in Indonesia, but the implication seems wrong since the elephants are not normally killed for gain, whether meat or ivory, but simply to protect crops. As early as 1980 in the region of Duri, farmers took matters into their own hands and killed at least eight elephants, often using wire snares which caused painful and lingering deaths (Anon., 1981e). Sukumar and Santiapillai (1993) state that, “Some poaching of elephants ... occurs.” Soemarna et al. (1993) lists numerous instances of poaching, including several populations that regularly lose one or two animals a year. In one particularly horrific incident, twelve elephants in Riau province died in 1996 after being lured into eating young oil palm shoots intentionally poisoned by managers of a plantation; this incident was widely reported in the regional press (Bangun, 1996).

Nonetheless, considering the nearness of the elephants and the damage they wreak, the killing and wounding of elephants by villagers would seem to be low. According to the PHPA, poaching is virtually non-existent, and even numerous people interviewed at WWF-IP agreed that poaching was low. First, since all weapons are under tight military control, villagers have almost no guns, even relatively few of the muzzle-loading shotguns so common elsewhere in Asia. Second, the government is so sensitive to international criticism that the villagers do not dare injure elephants, fearing government retribution even more than rampaging elephants. (The villagers’ normal response is to form groups and beat drums to drive off the elephants, which is largely effective though only temporarily.)

Proposed cull

In 1994 Indonesia’s Minister for Transmigration and Resettlement, according to Bangun (1996), announced that troublesome elephants would be shot. An Agence France-Presse story said, “The Indonesian government plans to authorize an elephant cull in Sumatra where their numbers are threatening villagers....” The elephants to be shot were bulls with tusks longer than 30 centimetres (12 inches). The Minister, Siswono Yudohusodo, was cited as saying that he expected an international outcry but the cull had been endorsed by President Suharto. The Minister rhetorically asked: “One elephant being shot dead provokes an international outcry. But when two or three villagers are killed, do they care?” In the end, protests by environmentalists coupled with damaging media reports caused the plan to be squelched, just as public opinion had stopped an earlier plan to cull in 1992.

Alternatives to culling have included suggestions to capture elephants and release them on other islands and also to sell them commercially within Indonesia and internationally. A spokesman of the “Forestry Ministry,” according to a press story (Jusuf, 1994), “has proposed sending the elephants to other countries, rather than killing them to control their numbers.” In fact, nearly all captives remain in government facilities simply because there is so little demand from the private sector domestically and so many obstacles to selling elephants overseas.

Distribution of domesticated elephants

Most domesticated elephants in Indonesia are on the island of Sumatra in Elephant Training Centres (ETC) run by the PHPA. The first ETC was established simultaneously with the first capture in 1986 in Lampung province near the Way Kambas Game Reserve, now a national park. Presently there are six ETCs.

Table 7: Domesticated elephants in Indonesia, January 1996 1




Moved 2


Way Kambas





Bukit Salero

Sumatera Selatan









Sebanga 3







Sumatera Utara












1 All data is courtesy of PHPA. All of the ETCs are on the island of Sumatra.

2 Elephants moved from ETCs after training, some to other ETCs.

3 Twenty-four elephants escaped.

Of the elephants moved from ETCs after training (as of January 1996), about 63 elephants were sent to seven sites, both private and government, in Java; 29 elephants went to Taman Safari Indonesia, a privately-owned safari park. Eleven elephants went to local zoos on Sumatra. Another 28 elephants have been moved to work for timber firms and palm oil plantations, some going to other islands.

Numbers of domesticated elephants

Indonesia captured its first elephants in 1986. By 1991 there were 59 elephants at the ETC at Way Kambas, Sumatra, with a sex ratio of 0.74 males per female; another 70 elephants were kept in other parts of Indonesia, mostly in national parks and zoos (Krishnamurthy, 1992b). By 1993 there were 217 elephants in ETCs in five provinces (Sukumar and Santiapillai, 1993). By January 1996, there were six ETCs and a total of about 520 elephants had been captured in Indonesia, with only two of those animals having died. Since all captured wild elephants must pass through an ETC and because deaths have been so low, Table 7 is in effect the number of domesticated elephants in Indonesia in January 1996. Between January and June another fifty elephants were captured, illustrating the impossibility of giving firm numbers for Indonesia.

Legal status and registration

The exact legal status of domesticated elephants is not clear; presumably domesticated elephants fall under the legal provisions pertaining to any wild animal in captivity, though this is somewhat of a moot point because well over 90% of the domesticated elephants are government-owned, a sort of extra-legal status. Thus, there is a sort of de facto official registration

More biodata, however, does badly need to be collected, entered into a database, and analyzed to facilitate management and planning. Officials asked basic questions about the 520 captured elephants (their average age, probable age at time of capture, the sex ratio, etc.) could not answer with precision. The lack of information is not surprising because grappling with data must have seemed unimportant in the mad dash to capture elephants, but compiling solid, easily accessible data should become a priority project now. Suprahman et al. (1993) state the need to discuss “record keeping and the establishment of a central data base, identification of all animals, establishment of a studbook to avoid inbreeding.” The age distribution of the captured elephants is of particular interest because their average age is surely very young, bringing great reproductive potential in captivity at the cost of greatly decreased reproductive potential in the wild groups from which they were taken.

Broad (1994) writes, “Indonesia joined CITES in 1978 and official statistics show that it is by far the largest exporter of wildlife in the region, and one of the most important in the world.” One of Indonesia’s motives for capturing and expensively keeping wild elephants rather than culling them is to avoid jeopardizing its reputation as a responsible member of CITES.

Institutions involved

The linchpin of elephant conservation is the Directorate of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHPA), a large government agency analogous to forest departments elsewhere. Unfortunately, even under government patronage, the ten-year old PHPA effort to capture and keep domesticated elephants still operates without the security and long term planning it deserves. Suprahman et al. (1993) recommend that, “The ETC project should be established as a formal government institution, perhaps as a Technical Operational Unit under the Directorate General of the PHPA. At present the ETC’s long-term future is not secured and funding requires a full project proposal each year.” They stress the need for a regular annual budget and a management environment promising career stability to staff. Stronger and better defined management is also recommended by Santiapillai and Ramano (1993), who write that, “The provincial ETCs should be under the control of a Director of Elephant Conservation whose Department would be responsible for the control, management and conservation of elephants in Sumatra.” They add that, “Given the low budget on which the PHPA operates, it would be grossly unfair to expect the PHPA alone to solve all the elephant problems.”

A private safari park in central Java, Taman Safari Indonesia, which purchased 29 captured elephants, would seem to have taken an interest in the ETCs, including providing financial assistance in the establishment of the first ETC at Way Kambas (Anon., 1993d). Suprahman et al. (1993) recommend the establishment of a non-government organization.

Veterinary care and health

“Unless there is substantial improvement in the veterinary care of the elephants, and sufficient financial and trained manpower resources are available, such increased capture of elephants cannot be justified,” wrote Sukumar and Santiapillai (1993). Krishnamurthy (1992b) notes that the elephants have heavy infestations of ectoparasites, especially lice, and that Way Kambas has “a poorly equipped dispensary.” Suprahman et al. (1993) state that veterinary care suffers from lack of equipment, distant laboratories, and the fact that only two ETCs, Aceh and Lampung, have on-site veterinarians; they write that, “Additional medicines and laboratory equipment are urgently required at Way Kambas and Lhokseumawe ETCs.”

There are problems. More funds are needed for medicines, and certainly the veterinarians need more experience. (No criticism is intended; none of the veterinarians, all of whom are young, have ever, with one brief exception, received any good hands-on training with experienced foreign field veterinarians.) But inadequate veterinary care nonetheless remains more of a latent problem than a pressing crisis. A morning spent looking at the elephants at Way Kambas shows that with very few exceptions these are very healthy elephants, if only because they are all so young and all so little worked. The number of elephants which actually die because of inadequate veterinary care is minuscule; indeed, if official statistics are to be believed, such deaths are non-existent. Improvements in veterinary care (and perhaps even more in animal husbandry) are needed, but this is by far the healthiest large population in Asia, both because of its relaxed living conditions and because of its unusual provenance: the mass capture of young elephants.

Referring to shortcomings, Krishnamurthy (1992b) says that seven “specific duties must be assigned to the veterinarian”: treating sick elephants, detecting communicable diseases, maintaining camp hygiene, prescribing diets, fixing work loads, collecting biodata, and conducting post mortems. He recommends de-worming (although by 1996 elephants did get Ivermectin twice a year) and “preventative vaccinations against serious diseases like Anthrax and Pasturellosis.” He also recommends sending PHPA veterinarians overseas to study at well-run facilities in India and elsewhere in Asia.

Suprahman et al. (1993) recommended the use of ETCs for “research on artificial reproduction, epidemiology of wildlife diseases, elephant behaviour and the economic and ecological impact of the utilization of elephants.” Considering the population’s size and the elephants’ general lack of employment, Indonesia’s elephants are far better placed than any other elephant population in Asia to serve as a platform for pure research.

Probably the greatest immediate health problem, at least at Way Kambas, is a shortage of fodder during the dry season and the limited number of food types brought in. “Apart from the monotony of eating monoculture fodder like coconut palm, the elephants do not get any grain rations, so their nutrition is inadequate,” wrote Krishnamurthy (1992b). The problem of limited diet is not, however, nearly so severe as in much of Sri Lanka.


McNeely (1978b) wrote that Sumatra and Kalimantan had large untapped “elephant resources” but that they often brought destruction to the people living in or near forests; he suggested that, “There is considerable potential for elephants in forestry in ... Indonesia....” McNeely concluded that, “It might be useful for the elephant training technology which has been developed in Thailand, Burma and India, to be transferred to Indonesia in anticipation of the future need.” By pure chance the “technology” ultimately came from Thailand.

· See “Cultural dimensions,” page 87, for some human aspects of this transfer.


In 1986 the PHPA brought from Thailand four mahouts and two khoonkies, both males about 30 years old (Santiapillai, 1994b). (One of the two Thai elephants, a mukhna named Thong Bai, was recently gored and killed by a wild tusker one night.) The specific impetus for the first captures was the killing of a six-year old boy by an elephant, an incident which so angered the people of the village of Sukadana Ham, Lampung province, that they attempted to pressure the PHPA to shoot the elephant. Instead, three elephants were captured, two mature cows and a sub-adult male, all immobilized from the back of a Thai khoonkie using a dart gun and Rompun (Xylazine). “The operation has had the twin effect,” according to Santiapillai (1994b), “of solving a problem without the need to kill any game animals, while also creating a good public opinion for the efforts of the PHPA.”

Ten years later capture is still normally done using Rompun (fired from a Telinject gun) but some younger animals are caught using only ropes (around the neck, as in northeast India, and not the feet, as is usual further east). Rompun is generally considered a pretty ‘rough’ drug and thus, despite Indonesia’s low mortality rate in capture, perhaps other drugs might be considered.

Between 1986 and the end of 1995, 520 elephants were captured. Over 50 elephants were captured in the first six months of 1996, almost all between 10 and 15 years of age and with an equal balance of males and females. Suprahman {1996} says 60% of captured bulls are tuskers and 40% are mukhnas. Suprahman et al. (1993) write, “Most elephants are captured in the harvest seasons (March and July).” The PHPA presently has a Five Year Plan with the astonishing but entirely possible goal of capturing 900 elephants from 1996 to 2001.

Sukumar and Santiapillai (1993) write that “care must be taken to see that the annual offtake of elephants in the wild is sustainable.” But Samedi {1996} says that in the future basically all wild elephants outside of national parks will be captured, in which case only protected areas will offer any chance of sustainable populations.

Mortality in capture is a perplexing question. Officials at Way Kambas insist that in the course of capturing and breaking nearly 600 wild elephants only two wild elephants have died, a number some experts would consider impossibly low. Relative to both the historical record and to recent efforts in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, the mortality rate in capture in Indonesia is phenomenally low. (Suprahman {1995} says one young bull committed suicide by stepping on its trunk and clinching its mouth to suffocate itself; Dr. Khyne U Mar in Myanmar has seen such cases, and references are found in the literature, including Baze [1955].)

Problem elephants

Epitomizing many possible quotes, Santiapillai and Ramono (1993) state that, “Capturing ‘problem elephants’ and training them for useful service to man seems more humane than shooting them as pests.” Although the prime stated aim of capture in Indonesia is to eliminate problem elephants, it is unclear exactly how many of the actual crop raiders, particularly older and more truculent elephants, have been caught. Numerous officials of a prominent NGO claim that the PHPA captures almost only young elephants, which would seem to be true: the oldest elephant at Way Kambas is clearly no older than 30. Suprahman et al. (1993) wrote that two out of three elephants captured were females and “most animals” were between 10 and 20 years old at the time of capture.

Officials say that older elephants do not crop raid, an abstinence most unlike old elephants, especially bulls, in Sri Lanka and India. Suprahman et al. (1993) write, “The more serious the damage reported the more likely an elephant will be captured.” But they add, somewhat contradictorily, that, “Fully mature large (e.g., rogue bulls) are considered to be a serious problem in that they are not suitable for capture and training....” Considering the high post-capture mortality rate of problem bulls captured in Sri Lanka, leaving Sumatra’s errant older bulls free as long as the damage they wreak can be tolerated would seem to be sound policy rather than avoiding a problem.

The question of sex and age at time of capture is of great interest and reinforces the need for better collection and analysis of biodata.


Evidently khoonkies were used in capturing wild elephants in the days of the sultans (Santiapillai and Jackson, 1990), so it is fitting they play a pivotal role in modern operations. A desperate need for khoonkies originally arose with the need to help capture and transport 40 wild elephants trapped in a hopeless situation (unwilling to swim a river) while being driven to Way Kambas Game Reserve. “The elephants required are specially trained to deal with the complex operation and hence just any tame elephants will not do,” wrote Santiapillai and Suprahman (1985a).

The mahouts and khoonkies brought from Thailand had the job to capture Indonesia’s first elephants in modern times. Khoonkies (this Hindi word has entered the local dialect, where it is pronounced goonji) are invaluable in getting new captives loaded onto trucks and to later assist in their training. To conduct hundreds of captures and moves with only two post-capture deaths is a safety record impossible without the help of khoonkies. Drug immobilization has meant that khoonkies no longer need to be at all skilful in the capture phase, but they (and their mahouts) must still have a determined but placid temperament during the training phase.

The various Elephant Training Centers now apparently have the confidence to capture and train bigger elephants but lack the good-sized khoonkies needed to control them. Suprahman et al. (1993) recommend more “capture elephants” and note that several ETCs have no khoonkies at all. They wrote of native-born khoonkies that “current stocks are not yet suitable for use in the capture and training of such [problem] animals.” One large Thai khoonkie is still alive, but all capture and training is now done by smaller, locally-trained animals. Presently, the PHPA is actively trying to buy from Thailand 12 large khoonkies, a team of two for each of the six ETCs, in order to implement the capture of 900 elephants over five years.


The very first elephant captured in 1986 has, probably prophetically, turned out to be a good breeder. Named Kartijah after an Indonesian hero, the young cow has mated with a wild bull and successfully calved. Exhibiting the powerfully maternal nature of some cows, on two occasions when set out to graze in the forest Kartijah has attracted two wild calves (one a poorly nourished four-month old) which followed her and her mahout back to camp, where they remain by her side - along with her own calf.

“Elephants are slow breeders no doubt, but that should not prevent the PHPA in making a start in this direction,” according to Santiapillai and Ramono (1993). Elephants are certainly slow breeders if considering their slow growth to maturity and their long inter-calving interval, but those drawbacks are compensated for by the elephant’s long life span. Domesticated elephants will breed prolifically if in good health and if allowed sufficient social contact with other elephants. With great understatement, Krishnamurthy (1992b) says, “Breeding of the elephants in the Park is not difficult.” Way Kambas ETC has had 11 births since its inception, according to officials. Six of the calves born were sired by wild bulls and five by domesticated bulls. (Both of the Thai bulls managed to mate and at least one produced a calf, thus introducing ‘mainland genes’.) There has been one twin birth but one of the calves died, which is quite common on the mainland, especially with cows calving for the first time.

More biodata is needed to better explore and predict the reproductive future of both domesticated and wild elephants on Indonesia.

Conclusions: Recruitment

“It would be naive to believe that capturing chronic crop raiders and training them in itself would solve the elephant-human conflicts in Sumatra. It is at best only a temporary measure and should not become institutionalized and accepted as routine,” wrote Santiapillai and Ramono (1993b). So as to avoid the need for capture, they suggest electric fences and trenches to fend off crop raiding elephants, but they acknowledge that even such expensive measures are likely to fail in badly fragmented habitat. Capture remains the last resort before culling.

Santiapillai and Ramono (1993a) write, “The Elephant Training Centres in Sumatra should incorporate programmes to start breeding elephants in captivity.... If elephants are to be trained for use in forestry operations, then they should be self-sustainable. Otherwise, there is a hidden danger that these training centres would simply become the raison d’être for more captures from the wild.” The fact remains, however, that the present motive for capturing wild elephants is simply to forestall crop raiding by taking elephants out of circulation, not to increase numbers in ETCs or to work them in forestry. Krishnamurthy (1992b) says that, “The elephants are not used for hauling timber and only a few of them were being trained for this purpose.”

Physically, Indonesia’s domesticated elephant population is very young and healthy, has a good sex ratio, suffers little or no energy-draining work, and has nothing but free time apart from some unstressful training. Managerially, the mahouts are very permissive and have absolutely no cultural inhibitions against elephants breeding. Births could easily be increased dramatically through a range of management techniques: selecting good bulls, tracking estrus cycles, giving mahouts bonuses for births, increasing opportunities for adolescent sex play, etc. Even without 900 new captives by 2001, Indonesia’s domesticated elephants are a population explosion in waiting - should human beings so choose. (And perhaps even if they don’t.)

Whether wild-caught or captive-born, in Indonesia elephants are expensive to maintain but there is little profitable work. (See “Employment,” page 82.) Thus, each additional elephant brings the government and the PHPA not a profit but an added financial burden. It makes little sense to encourage captive breeding when in the year 2001 there are expected to be 1,500 domesticated elephants with hardly any work to do. Discouraging rather than encouraging breeding would seem to be the most pragmatic policy, although it seems a shame to deprive elephants of a normal reproductive life, particularly to deprive cows of motherhood.

Prices and the market

A 1994 Kyodo news release, citing as source the English-language Jakarta Post, said the Ministry of Forestry stated that it was offering to sell young, trained elephants to foresty and plantation concerns for 7.5 million rupiahs (US$3,600) apiece, a price much lower than the mainland but not surprising considering Indonesia’s huge supply and an almost non-existent demand. One observer said that some of the elephants sold to Teman Safari International went for 14,000,000 rupiahs (US$6,700). The market within Indonesia has probably been saturated already, and if any country deserves a CITES exemption allowing some overseas sales, it is surely Indonesia.


The types and extent of work performed in Indonesia through the ages are unclear. “In Indonesia, up until the first part of this century,” according to Blouch and Haryanto (1985), “they [elephants] were mainly for ceremonial purposes in the district of Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra, but nowhere in this country have they ever been extensively trained and used for work.” On the other hand, Santiapillai and Ramono (1993) state, “Trained elephants performed a number of useful jobs during the Dutch colonial period; they ranged from hauling artillery during the war to hauling telegraph posts during peace.” If elephants were so useful to the Dutch, it is hard to imagine that they had not been equally useful to both the sultans and the rural populace on Sumatra. Some investigation of both Dutch- and Indonesian-language historical sources would undoubtedly help to clarify the nature and extent of employment in bygone days.

The question of employment is critical today because there is little paying work for nearly 600 elephants (regularly augmented by more wild captives). Except for pittances earned from tourism, these elephants are entirely dependent on precarious and insufficient but nonetheless massive subsidies from government. Krishnamurthy (1992b) says, “Unless these elephants are put to proper use, it will prove to be uneconomical to maintain such a large number of elephants in captivity.” If some humane form of work was available, it would be best and more secure if the elephants paid their own way, perhaps with a share of the profits going to improve their communal well-being.

From the earliest, 1970s recommendations that crop raiders should be captured and put to work rather than shot, work was always presumed to be primarily in forestry, particularly selective logging. The underlying assumption was that Indonesia’s hypothetical elephant operations would be much like those in Myanmar, India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. But full-scale timber work has never materialized, partly because of physical problems with the elephants’ age, size, and training (all highly addressable), but mostly because of the unfathomable legal, political, and social aspects of logging in Indonesia.

Selective logging in natural forest

Re-echoing the thoughts of many earlier observers, Santiapillai and Jackson (1990) write, “As long as timber extraction is carried out selectively and within strict limits, it can enhance the carrying capacity for elephants.” Santiapillai and Ramano (1993) write that, “Incentives must be given to individuals or companies that use trained elephants hauling logs instead of using heavy machinery.” They add, “The Elephant Training Centres in Sumatra cannot hope to provide trained elephants to replace modern machinery but could assist in some way in the extraction of timber from, say, swampy areas where no machinery can function economically.”

Presently, according to Dr. Faustina Ida {1996}, there are 28 logging elephants, two of which started to work in 1991, two in 1994, and 24 in 1995; she says there are problems because the elephants are too small and their mahouts have little technique. There are six teams of four elephants, four teams with logging companies and two with palm oil plantations. Many of these elephants have been sent, according to Harjanto Sukotjo {1996}, to “far off islands.”

“At first there was considerable reluctance on the part of logging companies in Sumatra to embark on the use of trained elephants in timber extraction,” wrote Anon. (1993d). Nonetheless, Santiapillai (1992b) states, “Despite considerable initial resistance on the part of Sumatran loggers, the PHPA seems to have successfully demonstrated the animals’ potential. The turning point came when the PT Great Andalas Timber Country, in Lampung province, incorporated two trained elephants in its logging operations.” Perhaps a corner has been turned, but the fact remains that there are still very few elephants employed in logging - and nothing has been written about exactly what they are doing and how well they are doing it.

Three specifically elephant-related obstacles stand in the way of creating large numbers of truly ‘professional’ (by mainland standards) logging elephants in Indonesia: small size, imperfect technique and hardware, and the degree of force needed.

As for small size, Indonesia’s elephants are small on two separate counts. First, given the young average age at capture, relatively few PHPA elephants have yet reached full growth. A 1994 Kyodo news release, citing the English-language Jakarta Post, says that an official spokesman stated that the Ministry of Forestry was offering to sell trained elephants “mostly aged 10 or a bit older” with the idea they would go to “forestry concessionaires and plantation companies, hoping that they will be used to help move bulky materials.” Such thinking is unrealistic because such young animals could never do much useful work, and even if they did, that work would prove counter-productive by stunting their growth. Second, class-by-class, elephants of the Sumatran subspecies average perhaps only 60% to 80% of the weight of their mainland relatives, and an elephant’s maximum skidding load is directly proportional to its body weight. (The conventional rule of thumb is that a fit elephant can skid half its body weight over reasonably rough terrain.) The small adult size of Indonesia’s elephants is an immutable limitation that must be accepted unless, disregarding scientific objections to hybridization, large mainland elephants were to be introduced as breeders.

As for imperfect technique and hardware, the Thai mahouts from Chaiyaphum province were basically elephant catchers and, lately, mendicant performers who despised and shunned working in logging, and consequently they were not very good at it. Should Indonesia ever make a determined effort to produce bona fide logging elephants, problems with technique could be easily corrected by importing teachers in logging expertise from Thailand, perhaps from the FIO.

As for the degree of force required for efficient skidding, to extract the quotas of logs expected in mainland operations would require that the elephants be pushed very hard - hard enough to possibly cause logging to be construed as unsuitable work or even cruelty by many Indonesian mahouts and managers as well as the general public. Perhaps there is an acceptable middle ground where elephants are productive while still doing less work than most of their mainland counterparts. Nonetheless, the degree of force required to deliver high efficiency could prove to be a contentious issue.

While stating that the use of elephants can make timber extraction sustainable and thereby greatly reduce environmental damage, Santiapillai (1992) also recognizes that the elephant’s ability to work well on steep hills creates “the hidden danger of misuse of trained elephants by unscrupulous logging companies in extracting timber from upper reaches of the forests and thus destroying the crucial watersheds.” If the threat of illegal logging is perceived as serious enough to prohibit elephant logging in terrain inaccessible to machines, then by far the elephants’ largest potential source of employment is cut off.

· See “Conclusions: Employment,” page 84.

Work in production forests

There are three kinds of production forest in Indonesia: limited production forests, permanent production forests, and conversion forests. (Conversion forests can be turned to other uses such as agriculture, mining, etc.)

A private safari park involved in elephant conservation (Anon., 1993d), Taman Safari Indonesia, says, “TSI is particularly careful to emphasize the use of trained elephants only in the production forests and not in the virgin forests in Indonesia.” Santiapillai and Ramono (1993b) write, “Trained elephants have enormous economic potential and can be used in timber extraction in the Production Forests such as Teak, Eucalyptus, and Pine.” Krishnamurthy (1992b) says, “These animals must be trained for hauling timber, and utilised in the production forest areas.” Santiapillai (1992b) wrote that if elephants “are used to take timber from places machines cannot reach ... elephants can present a danger to forest areas. This is why, in a recent project in Sumatra, the Directorate of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHPA) was careful to ensure that elephants were only used in production forest which had been set aside specifically for monocultural cultivation of trees such as teak, pine and eucalyptus.”

Santiapillai and Ramono (1993) write, “The Department of Forestry must explore the possibility of using trained elephants in timber extraction within production forests, as is the case in Thailand and Burma.” In fact, neither in Thailand nor Burma (Myanmar) have elephants ever been used to any significant extent in monocultural production forests or plantations.

While the principle is admirable, it is most unlikely that production forests will ever employ many elephants. The primary problem is simply that, whether slow-growing teak or quick-growing pine or eucalyptus, the trees mature too slowly to require regular work. Further, most production plantations are sited on land flat enough, and grow trees small enough, that ordinary farm tractors can do much of the highly periodic skidding work. (A human problem is that people who have long done the work will try to protect their jobs.) The upshot is that while a very few elephants might find jobs in production forests, plantation forestry is most unlikely to employ elephants in numbers sufficiently large to be considered a practical option in management.

Conclusions: Employment

Many forms of work have been suggested as alternatives to forestry. Suprahman et al. (1993) suggest the use of elephants as guards against crop-raiding elephants. Pandu Hartoyo {1996} proposed the use of elephants for patrolling against wood poachers. Giving rides in national parks has also been often mentioned. Santiapillai and Ramono (1993) write that the ETCs should be used in wildlife conservation and tourism, and Sukumar and Santiapillai (1993) note that some animals work in tourism zoos and safari parks. Unfortunately, most jobs in tourism have been filled, and the only way to increase such jobs is to increase tourism, a task obviously beyond the duties and the expertise of the PHPA.

Despite all of these alternative job types, the fact remains that forestry is the only form of work likely to employ large numbers of Indonesia’s burgeoning domesticated elephants. So long as selective logging by elephants in natural forest is discouraged for fear that their singular ability will be abused, it is very difficult to see how Indonesia could ever find sufficient employment for the 1,500 elephants expected in the year 2001.

Are Indonesia’s domesticated elephants a potential threat to the country’s forests? Are they the potential salvation of the country’s forests? Or are they simply a nuisance caught on the sidelines of much larger issues of Indonesian politics? The answers to these questions all lie in human decisions and have nothing to do with any intrinsic physical property of using elephants to skid logs.


Except for fewer than fifty elephants at private tourism venues and zoos, all of Indonesia’s elephants are owned by the PHPA and thus the state. (Some zoos involve municipal govern-ment alone, and some also have private participation.) Since demand from private buyers seems mostly satisfied, the PHPA’s share of ownership can only increase astronomically as 900 more elephants are captured through the year 2001.


“A national search in 1982 turned up nary a native mahout, or pawang, as an elephant handler is known in Indonesia,” according to Sterba (1989). To solve the problem, the Indonesian government in 1986 imported two khoonkies and four mahouts from Chaiyaphum province in Thailand to capture elephants and also to, in the words of Santiapillai (1994b), “train the Indonesian mahouts in the care and management of elephants in captivity.”

· See “Cultural dimensions,” page 87.

The most immediately striking aspect of mahouts on Sumatra is simply that they are all so very young. Because the first mahouts were hired in 1985 aged about 20 and will not retire until 60 years old, it will not be until the year 2225 that the PHPA’s mahouts comprise a full age-range. The mahouts are all high school graduates and healthy, clean-cut, and intelligent to a man. They are dramatically unlike any group of mahouts on the mainland.

Salaries start at 1,500,000 rupiahs (US$660) a year, a liveable sum for a young bachelor in rural Indonesia. Mahouts get regular raises and if their work is good after two years or so they will officially enter the civil service. Suprahman et al. (1993) imply that to maintain a mahout in training for a year costs about 2,800,000 rupiahs (US$1,230), the costs beyond base salary undoubtedly being benefits and pro-rated overhead costs.

“The number of mahouts employed is far less then the number of elephants kept in the Centre. As more and more elephants are captured and brought to the Centre for training, the problem will become more acute,” according to Krishnamurthy (1992b). (On the mainland the normal practice is to employ two mahouts for each adult elephant at work, but of course working mainland elephants earn enough to pay for both men and more.) This shortage of manpower is similar to, although not nearly so severe as, the shortage of mahouts at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka; in both places the root cause is that the elephants are earning much less money than is needed to keep them.

As for the imported legacy in mahoutship, the four Thai mahout-teachers were obviously very good elephant men but probably not very good teachers, not surprising since they came from a traditional society where mahoutship is not systematically taught but rather unconsciously absorbed from boyhood. Whereas the Thai mahouts undoubtedly used about 35 to 40 command words with their own elephants, ETC mahouts now use only five standard command words: Back!, Stop!, Couch!, Lift your foot!, and Lift it! (an object to the mahout). Many of the command words which were never taught to the Indonesian mahouts, or perhaps learned but not used by them, are not needed for basic riding but are essential for greater control and for complicated work such as logging.

The hardware used, everything from fetters and breast bands (riding saddles are not to be found), seemed poor to the author, although Krishnamurthy (1992b) wrote that “the various methods of restraint adopted by them [Indonesian mahouts], such as the use of cane fetters for hobbling and skilful use of nylon ropes for restraint, are techniques mahouts from other countries should examine.” The discrepancy in quality between hardware and restraint gear can probably be explained by the fact that as an elephant-capturing people the Chaiyaphum mahouts have little need for sophisticated hardware with the sole exception of restraint gear. The issue of poor hardware is not critical because improving it would be easy in the course of any larger managerial effort in Indonesia.

The mahoutship is rudimentary but adequate, and seemingly very kind. “The Indonesian mahouts have acquired considerable skill in handling their elephants and making them perform circus feats, and ride their elephants with dexterity,” writes Krishnamurthy (1992b). He adds that some mahouts use undesirable “harsh methods” and that, “Some of the mahouts indulge in indiscriminate use of the hook.”1 One cannot help but wonder if the abuse Krishnamurthy saw was conducted by the Thai mahouts or was a direct result of their presence and teachings, because pain is a key element of training in Chaiyaphum. (A color photo feature in Asiaweek [Compost, 1988] included two pictures of a bull elephant, one whilst being ‘speared’ by a Thai mahout at the base of the trunk and the second a close-up of the wounds.) The author witnessed little in the way of harsh measures at Way Kambas and saw very few wounds or scars produced by hooks. When questioned about the Thai mahouts, Indonesian mahouts and officials often volunteered that the Thais were unnecessarily cruel. While training at present is presently not very sophisticated, it certainly no longer depends on inflicting pain, an essential element of the Chaiyaphum methods and, to be fair, nearly all mainland systems.

Training in Indonesia is casual and lacks the hard edge of determination found nearly everywhere on the mainland. Several times at Way Kambas the author saw training sessions of fairly advanced animals stopped after five or ten minutes simply because the animal became a little irritated or fidgety. This solicitous attitude is fine for training elephants with no work to do, and it is certainly the kindest treatment, but it will never produce either perfectly safe elephants or mainland-style logging elephants, the best of which are - for better or worse - instantly obedient, finely-tuned biological machines.

Krishnamurthy (1992b) recommends, quite rightly, the use of the kraal or ‘training crush’ method, as in south India (and Thailand, Myanmar, and elsewhere), saying, “This should stop the traumatic experience which the elephants undergo in training.” (The kraal is simply a very strong, massive stall which with the use of ropes can keep the young elephant totally immobile, including being unable to kick, raise or swing its head, etc.) Whatever trauma is presently suffered in training at Way Kambas is not the trauma of pain and abuse but rather the trauma of confusion resulting from unsystematic methods and a lack of firmness. Kraal is a good example of what is lacking in Indonesia, a sophisticated mainland technique not taught by the Chaiyaphum mahouts because they neither used kraals nor knew how to use them. A kraal, whether in south India or Myanmar or Thailand, teaches the most important and most fundamental single command: “Still!” or “Quiet!” The elephant should instantly stop whatever it is doing and stand perfectly still, not moving even its head or flapping its ears, not reacting even if touched or patted or approached from behind. An important everyday command word, “Still!” is also the voice command of last resort, possessing the ability to instantly induce a state of quietude, if not total submission. Particularly with timid animals, “Still!” actually comforts in tense situations because the mahout is actually saying, “I am here protecting you.” Only the total immobility imposed by kraal can establish such total control, a cornerstone of the man-elephant relationship of the sophisticated, traditional mainland ‘schools’ - although such total dominance can easily be seen as abhorrent to modern eyes

The Chaiyaphum tradition is very much a rough-and-ready ‘cowboy’ tradition which the Indonesians have, almost entirely on their own, already transcended. Indonesia now needs access to more sophisticated training and control techniques. With no surviving tradition of its own, Indonesia is fertile ground for the introduction of the most sophisticated techniques from both the East and the West.

Overseas expertise would definitely benefit Indonesia, but that expertise will need to be demonstrated on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis rather than being force-fed as immutable dogma. While the Indonesians are far more receptive to outside knowledge than are mainland mahouts and managers, they simply will not be told what to do. The Indonesians are quick to learn and they operate with a spirit of teamwork; communications between mahouts and managers are excellent, quite unlike many mainland venues. Western trainers skilled at modern, non-abusive techniques should be brought to Sumatra to actually train, in front of as many mahouts as possible, a typical range of elephants: a three-year old, an aggressive young bull, a skittish cow, etc. Such demonstrations could be somewhat formalized, perhaps with a written manual and a bit of classroom work, but the basic thrust should be simply to demonstrate and answer questions. Such teaching efforts would have value all out of proportion to their cost.

As for mahout-elephant conflict, one rider was killed by his elephant in August of 1992, according to Suprahman et al. (1993) who rhetorically ask: “Others?” Officials on Sumatra say that only two mahouts have been killed by elephants, both ‘by accident’; this low number is somewhat unlikely although plausible given that the elephants are so young. (Reciprocally, supposedly only two wild elephants have died in capture.) Only one ‘civilian’ human mortality has been caused by a domesticated elephant; at a new year parade on Java in 1995 a young girl was trampled to death, apparently out of panic rather than aggression.

Three factors are likely to increase future mahout-elephant conflict and to thereby necessitate higher standards of mahoutship: elephants ageing, elephants coming into musth, and -only if selective logging should ever come to be - forcing elephants to do hard work. First, biologically, as elephants mature, both males and females, many tend to get more feisty and to have the size and experience to express that feistiness. Second, biologically, Indonesia’s young males will soon start coming into musth in great numbers. (Evidently Saeng Thong, the surviving Thai khoonkie, is the only elephant the Indonesians have ever known in musth, a sure indicator of the population’s unnatural youth.) Third, hard work increases irritability and thence violence in elephants; as for the mahouts, the fatigue of hard work and the all-day closeness to elephants brings increased vulnerability. Irritated elephants and tired men are a dangerous combination. Perhaps Indonesia and its elephants have had a bit of honeymoon so far.

After contemplating the training of mahouts and the training of elephants in Indonesia, most observers will be left with two conflicting impressions. First, with so little work to do there seems to be no reason to waste time on training beyond that needed to maintain basic control. Second, Indonesia is by far the best place in Asia to explore methods to improve mahoutship and to improve the training of elephants, and too much time has been wasted by leaving a unique opportunity unsupported and under-utilized.

Cultural dimensions

“It might be useful for the elephant training technology which has been developed in Thailand, Burma and India, to be transferred to Indonesia in anticipation of the future need,” wrote McNeely (1978b). Santiapillai and Suprahman (1985b) wrote, “Efforts should be made to enlist the support of a trained team of personnel from Thailand, Malaysia, India, or Sri Lanka in capturing some of the elephants for eventual release into the Way Kambas Game Reserve, while utilising the rest in the domestication or training programme.” Santiapillai and Suprahman (1985a) wrote that “there is an urgent need for a team of especially trained men and elephants to be brought here from countries such as Burma, Thailand, India, Malaysia or Sri Lanka.”

Such statements make it abundantly clear that Indonesia received the imported foundations of its new elephant-keeping culture entirely by accident. The cultural transmission of a very small, specialized, and somewhat degraded Thai tradition to Indonesia in 1986 resulted neither from choosing mahouts with cultural or linguistic affinities with the mahouts-to-be, nor from choosing a particularly sophisticated or humane keeping technique. Rather, the transmission occurred through the vagaries of international relations. (There is nothing new in this sort of ‘unselected transmission of knowledge’, which has been the norm for centuries.2) Santiapillai and Suprahman (1985a) wrote, “Although the Burmese Government offered to help in the programme it backed away at the last moment. Its volte-face could not have come at a worse time.” Instead of Burma, Thailand agreed to help Indonesia, the two countries being culturally linked for centuries and enjoying cordial relations in modern times, both belonging to Asean. The choice of mahouts was left entirely up to the Royal Forest Department in Thailand and, judging by results, the choice seems to have been an inspired one, although with some indisputable negative aspects. Until a totally indigenous tradition evolves to displace borrowings, the almost accidental choice of Thai mahouts from the particular province of Chaiyaphum must inevitably color Indonesian mahoutship to a degree sufficient to justify a lengthy side trip exploring the origins of the transplanted tradition.

Located on the Khorat Plateau to the east of the Petchabun mountain range, the province of Chaiyaphum was once abundant wild elephant country but has now been mostly deforested and turned to agricultural land. Nearly all of Chaiyaphum’s domesticated elephants are presently found near the provincial capital around the village of Ban Khai, which probably has about 30 to 35 elephants even though in 1994 the Ministry of Interior listed only nine elephants for the whole province, none of them actually registered. (The reason for secrecy is that Chaiyaphum mahouts are known to buy elephants illegally imported from Myanmar and the Lao PDR and to occasionally themselves illegally capture wild elephants within Thailand and even Myanmar.) The Chaiyaphum community is remarkable for preserving an ancient capturing-and-selling tradition which is now both illegal and on its last legs. Unwilling to hire out at logging, they have most often turned to doing travelling shows which, in terms of the independence offered, is the available work type most resembling capturing wild elephants.3

One irony of choosing the Chaiyaphum ‘school’ to instil a new tradition in Indonesia is that in its Thai homeland it is a dying tradition with ever fewer elephants and mahouts. The mahouts of Chaiyaphum are the inheritors of a local variant of a once vast but rapidly vanishing elephant-capturing tradition characterized by four practices: the use of mela-shikar, a wide range of shared rites, shared taboos, and the need to speak a special language, the ‘ghost language’ or ‘forest spirit language’ when capturing wild elephants.

· See “The forest spirit language culture,” page 222.

The Chaiyaphum tradition was undoubtedly very skilled; one master catcher said that he had captured over 40 elephants between 1966 and 1988 (Kanwanich, 1988). The rugged nature of this elephant-capturing tradition stood Indonesia in good stead when the need was to capture and rough break elephants but the ruggedness has had its downside when it comes to the fine training of elephants. Like most elephant-capturing peoples, in the past the Chaiyaphum mahouts kept only khoonkie elephants and, except for their own animals, they were not very interested in training beyond quickly rough breaking wild captives sufficiently to walk them to market. Elephant-capturing mahouts everywhere tend to be far tougher on elephants than are elephant-keeping mahouts.4

Coincidentally, only 600 kilometers to the northwest of Chaiyaphum there is a far more sophisticated Northern Thai keeping tradition which relies less on pain and more on subtle training techniques, such as the kraal or training crush. If the Thai officials had chosen mahouts of the Northern Thai tradition, as they easily could have, Indonesia would probably have had poorer luck capturing elephants (at least if drug immobilization had not rendered mela-shikar unnecessary) but would probably now be producing better, more polished elephants and mahouts after training.

Although the Indonesians are a genuinely kind people, there is understandably less of a deep-rooted cultural affinity for elephants than among the Buddhist and Hindu cultures of the mainland. “The Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) has an image problem. Most of the reports that are published in the media refer to its proclivity to raiding crops and thereby causing the economic ruin to farmers trying to eke out a precarious existence near areas inhabited by elephants,” wrote Santiapillai and Ramono (1993b). Suprahman et al. (1993) very sensibly recommend a public relations officer to promote the ETCs and also the establishment of a non-government organization.


Indonesia’s domesticated elephants are quite different from any of the populations on the mainland, including Sri Lanka:

The human factors - mahouts and management - are also very different from the norm on the mainland:

“The art of elephant management in Indonesia is of recent origin and needs to be improved,” wrote Krishnamurthy (1992b). Luckily, all of the PHPA mahouts and managers seem to have a genuine desire to change and improve, their mental attitude being quite modern. While the Indonesians can be perceived as suffering the lack of a tradition, they less obviously enjoy the advantage of not having a tradition - of not being locked into folk belief, superstition, and outmoded ways. Talking to ETC mahouts is far more like talking with zoo keepers and circus trainers in the West than talking with mainland Asian mahouts. On the continent, mahouts are often very reticent and very settled in their ways (to the point of being blinkered by tradition), and the relationship between manager and mahout is often almost feudal. In Indonesia everybody is curious and everybody is free to state their opinion, there being an almost democratic relationship between mahouts and managers. Much time is spent discussing and analyzing results, and many of the foremen, in particular, are very astute observers of elephant behavior.

There are pressing material needs. Suprahman et al. (1993) recommend more new ETCs to ease overcrowding, better internal communications equipment, and two trucks per ETC. (One official told the author of submitting a request for a tethering chain of 20 metres and finally being sent a chain of 4 metres, a length too short to allow the elephant to feed widely.) Way Kambas and several other ETCs with insufficient food and land badly need to be enlarged. At Way Kambas, some food, such as coconut trees, must be purchased because of dry season conditions; Krishnamurthy (1992b) wrote, “There was no flowing water in the river and natural fodder was scarce....”

All such physical shortcomings ultimately derive from a shortage of funds which can be seen either as a lack of paying work or as insufficient government subsidies or both. The ETC program is very expensive to run with only a little income from tourism and the sales of elephants. (Though there is little data, salaries and fringe benefits alone must approach or exceed US$500,000 a year.) Indonesia’s domesticated elephants are a national treasure, but they are also a national burden which will become ever heavier so long as wild elephants continue to be captured.

The contentious issue of the possible use of elephants to skid logs in selective forestry should be addressed and settled for the foreseeable future. Using elephants in sustainable selective logging was one of the original rationales for capturing wild elephants, starting with McNeely in 1979, and it has been repeatedly suggested to this day, both to protect forest and to pay for the elephants’ upkeep. Any present problems with technique could be easily solved by bringing in expertise from the continent. Elephant logging in Indonesia poses complex and challenging questions, however, in realms as diverse as conservation, law, ethics, etc., and these issues should be thrashed out. Selective logging is clearly the only possible mass employer of elephants in Indonesia, and if it is never going to happen, then that should be clearly recognized so as to begin planning for the stark alternative: keeping 1,500 unproductive elephants in the year 2001.

Describing the log book format used in south India and recommending it for Indonesia, Krishnamurthy (1992b) stressed the need “to maintain proper records for each elephant and monitor its performance.” Better data collection and documentation - in fact a database - is urgently needed in order to understand Indonesia’s unique population dynamics, both present and future. Existing data should be entered into a database as soon as possible.

“A workshop should be convened as soon as possible with the aim of improving management of the captured elephants in existing and proposed ETCs. The workshop should involve staff and veterinarians from each ETC, from other captive centers in Asia and from the international zoo community,” wrote Suprahman et al. (1993). Such a workshop is essential but will be only the first step of an ongoing effort; a single session will not solve Indonesia’s current problems, much less looming future problems.

One problem with the PHPA’s Elephant Training Centres has been brought about by themselves: the ETCs are doing too good a job for their own best interests. By running an operation tight enough to forestall both high human and elephant mortalities, ETCs have cut themselves off from outside help which they would surely have received if there had been grievous problems. The PHPA and Indonesia deserve substantial international support to make their good work even better; these elephants should not be the burden of one single government department, nor, indeed, of one single country. This is a domesticated elephant population that was created by - not corrupted and damaged by - the effects of development and globalization.

Indonesia’s domesticated elephant population is too important to just meander along unsupported and with no clear goals. Sumatra’s ETCs have both the potential and the need to become a vast open-air laboratory for improving keeping and training techniques with application world wide.

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