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Management of Sumatran elephants in Indonesia: Problems and challenges - Bambang Suprayogi, Jito Sugardjito and Ronald P.H. Lilley


In the 1980s, the Indonesian Directorate General of Nature Protection and Conservation (PHPA) found it necessary to consider capturing wild elephants in an attempt to ease the conflicts between humans and elephants. Between 1986 and the end of 1995, 520 elephants were captured and a five year plan was formulated to catch up to 900 elephants between 1996 and 2001. Six Elephant Training Centres (ETCs) have been established throughout Sumatra since 1986. These are located in the provinces of Aceh, North Sumatra, Riau, Bengkulu, South Sumatra and Lampung. The management and care of these captive elephants has become less and less sustainable as habitat loss has continued, a factor not considered in the 1990 Action Plan. Wild elephant capture was discontinued in 1999.

Elephants brought into the centres were basically trained for riding and simple tasks. Only a few were specifically trained for logging duties. Early hopes that there would be a great demand for trained elephants to work in Indonesian production forests have not been realized. Since their inception, ETCs have been under-resourced and their veterinary care has been subject to severe financial constraints. Long-term funding for the centres has still to be assured.

The key issues, which are critical for conservation of the Sumatran elephant, include:

1) Protected areas cannot alone conserve viable elephant populations. Funding for protected areas is limited and only a few externally funded projects addressing conservation in the wider landscape are in operation.

2) Current economic difficulties have increased human pressure on elephants and elephant habitat. Illegal incursions into protected areas and poaching of natural living resources have continued to increase. Habitat fragmentation and increasing human populations are the main threats to the dwindling elephant populations.

3) The elephants in the ETCs are under-utilized, the centres are under-resourced, have few clear functions, and will not be sustainable unless provided with permanent and substantial long-tem support.

4) Other problems at the ETCs include inadequate land area and facilities, poor health and husbandry of elephants, poor management and coordination, and welfare problems of elephants, mahouts and veterinarians. Various recommendations are proposed to address these problems.

5) The establishment of an Indonesian Elephant Trust, which can coordinate efforts for elephant conservation in Indonesia, is an urgent priority if the remaining elephants, both captive and wild, are to be saved.


Historically, wild elephants in Indonesia have been captured for domestication for hundreds of years. For centuries, the northern part of Sumatra had a tradition of elephant domestication for reasons of court and ceremony (Lair, 1997). The traditional tale of"Biram Sattany” shows humans and elephants coexisting in peace during the time of the Aceh kingdom (Djamil, 1958). In Acehnese society, the domesticated elephant had several local names, including pomeurah, pobeuransah, teuku-rayek and tanoh mayong, which were traditionally used as a part of daily speech, as a mark of respect towards elephants. In 1265, King Malikus Saleh had 300 fully decorated and armed elephants as part of his armed forces. The greatest period of this human-elephant relationship in Aceh was during the time of Sultan Iskandar Muda (1608-1636). Based on a note by the French Admiral De Beaulieu when visiting Aceh in 1621, the Sultan had 900 trained elephant armed forces. When the Sultan attacked the King of Deli in North Sumatra, he used 100 elephant troops that were transported there by ships. In addition, during the Dutch colonial period, the Fourth Division of the Marechaussee Corps of the Dutch army used elephants to transport weapons and equipment in their attempt to attack the Acehnese fighters in places that could not be reached by vehicles (Basry and Alfian, 1997). Under colonial management, the elephants did not only serve the Dutch army, but also helped clear the forests for agriculture (Groning and Saller, 1998). Unfortunately, in the late nineteenth century the tradition of domesticating elephants in Sumatra declined, and then at the end of Dutch colonial rule, finally disappeared (Santiapillai, 1992).

Elephant domestication in recent times

The largest meta-population of Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus), left in Indonesia has been under increasing pressure from continuing unsustainable logging practices, conversion of forests to agriculture and commercial plantations, forest fires, and illegal deforestation and settlement, both outside and within protection forest and conservation areas. Elephant numbers in Sumatra, though in some areas still viable, are widely declining as forest habitat disappears and is fragmented. Their migration routes have also been progressively cut. The effect on elephants has been the division of populations into smaller units, some of which are at risk of being lost from stochastic events and the effects of inbreeding depression. It is of great concern that this trend of fragmentation into even smaller, more vulnerable populations will lead to their eventual extinction in Sumatra in the not-too-distant future.

The problems of human-elephant conflicts are particularly acute in Asian countries where elephants live in areas with high human population densities (Suprayogi et al., 2000). An increase in human population and economic demand is placing more pressure on natural resources, and the massive human transmigration programme throughout Sumatra has led to an increased frequency of human-elephant conflicts. Most of the conflict areas are in parts of the traditional home ranges of elephants, because these have been opened up for settlement and cultivation. The elephants have still continued to use their home ranges, especially where areas offer a better quality of food (Suprayogi et al., 2000). In addition, the availability of highly palatable elephant foods such as paddy, sugar cane and other crops is too great a temptation for elephants, encouraging them to come frequently to the villages. In some areas, elephants have not only raided crops and destroyed properties, but also killed and injured people. This escalation of human-elephant conflicts has led to public protests in many places, to regular and critical press coverage, and to some hostility towards conservation agencies. Elephants have increasingly become the targets of negative attitudes towards conservation.

In the 1980s the art of elephant domestication returned to Sumatra, although this time they were not being trained for war. Instead, capture and training of elephants began again as a result of the escalating number of human-elephant conflicts throughout the island. As an alternative to culling, the Government of Indonesia promoted the capture of"problem” elephants, which were then trained in the Elephant Training Centres (ETCs) for riding and simple logging work. The first ETC was established in Way Kambas, Lampung province, south Sumatra in 1986. However, since then, the use of domesticated elephants for work on logging sites has been negligible (Groning and Saller, 1998).

According to the 1990 IUCN Asian Elephant Conservation Action Plan, the existence of ETCs was expected to provide an ideal basis for mobilising a greater local and regional respect for"problem” elephants, and to generate a better climate for their conservation. From then until 1998, capturing elephants was considered to be the most suitable and satisfactory way to solve human-elephant conflicts, and gained great support from local communities and government officers. These captures in fact only transferred the problems from the conflict areas to the ETCs. However, demands for the removal of"problem” elephants have been politically difficult to ignore, although this action has ultimately led to the depletion of elephant populations throughout Sumatra. The capture of wild elephants by the government was discontinued in 1999.

It is important to note that, although logging companies were required by the government to take on elephants to help with their forest clearance work as part of their contractual obligations, all recorded transfers of elephants (apart from ten) appear to have been on paper only. The fees were paid in order to secure the concessions, but no elephants were actually sent to the logging sites. The companies did not want what they saw as an extra burden of having to look after elephants, and in any case, Sumatran elephants are considerably smaller and therefore not as strong as their Indian and Thai counterparts. Thus, the logging companies preferred to use mechanical logging machinery instead, deeming it to be faster and more efficient, regardless of environmental impacts.

A number of facilities (including veterinary facilities, bathing pools, training frames) that were built at some of the ETCs were badly designed, and later found to be unsuitable for the purpose. Some of these were never used. This indicates a lack of planning and prior consultation, leading to a loss of funds that could have been allocated more usefully.

Current status and distribution of captive elephants

The legal status of captive Sumatran elephants in Indonesia is that they are the property of the Government of Indonesia, and cannot be privately owned. Under Indonesian law, captive elephants, as with other captive protected species, are treated in law as if they were wild. Therefore, the Directorate General of Nature Protection and Conservation (PKA) requires official registration of all captive elephants, and yearly updated records (including transfers, births, deaths, etc.).

A further 900 elephants were planned to be caught by the year 2001. If this had happened, elephant numbers in the ETCs were predicted to have risen to 1 500 (Lair, 1997). Because of the recent economic collapse in Indonesia, captive elephants in the ETCs are an added financial burden to the government, and thought to be too expensive to maintain. They have not generated sufficient income, and have not managed to become self-financing, as was previously hoped. The government was finally advised by the (then) Director-General. of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHPA) that the most pragmatic policy would be to discontinue the capture of wild elephants.

In April 2000, the Elephant Training Centres (ETCs) were renamed ‘Elephant Conservation Centres' (ECCs), although the official management structure has yet to be implemented. Thus, the purpose of the centres was broadened to support in situ elephant conservation. Captive elephants have now occasionally been used to chase away troublesome elephants from conflict areas. Any elephant for which there is no alternative but capture is relocated to a protected area. For example, in Aceh Besar, two elephants were relocated, and in Jambi Baru (Aceh Selatan), five animals were relocated. In all cases, none have so far been reported to have been returned to their original areas.

However, except for a few elephants held in tourist areas, safari parks and zoos, by far the majority of the captive elephants are still kept at the ECCs. They are occasionally loaned out with their mahouts on a short-term basis, to take part in parades and other events in Sumatra and Java. There are six ECCs in Sumatra, with a total population of 391 elephants (at the end of 2000).

Table 1 shows that the additional elephant numbers in the ECCs over the years have been entirely a result of capture. Some elephants have been moved from the ECCs after training to zoos, safari parks, and other islands for tourism activities. Many adult elephants and newly born animals have also died in the ECCs for various reasons, but detailed records about these deaths are lacking. Apart from the few relocations from conflict areas mentioned above, there have so far been no releases of captive elephants back to their wild habitat. Fig. 1 shows the distribution of the ECCs and wild elephant population habitat in Sumatra.

Table 1. Captive elephants in Elephant Conservation Centres, Sumatra



Number of elephants










Because of the social unrest in Aceh, the ECC in Lhok Seumawe (Aceh Utara) has been closed down. The 29 animals were moved to elephant refugee camps in Saree, Aceh Besar, (15 elephants), and in Aras Napal, N.Sumatra (14 elephants) (see below)

North Sumatra

Holiday Resort




The area of the ECC has been seriously encroached by farmers for crops.

Aras Napal

19 (14 +5)

14 animals from Lhokseumawe, and 5 more used by the Leuser Development Project (LDP) for patrols.






Illegal logging has seriously threatened the existence of the ECC. Only 44 animals have stayed in Sebanga. The others have been moved to Minas (5 elephants) and Dumai (20 elephants).






Land encroachment is a serious problem.

South Sumatra

Bukit Salero & Sebokor




Problems of overcrowding have made management very difficult. Sebokor has many untrained elephants.


Way Kambas




Problems of overcrowding have made management very difficult.





Fig. 1. The distribution on wild elephant population and Elephant Conservation Centres in Sumatra

Some of the trained elephants have since been transferred to locations outside Sumatra. For example, in 1995, 15 elephants were sent from Aceh to Taman Safari, a safari park near Bogor, west Java. In 1999, 12 elephants were lent by the government, using the regulations on the loan of protected animals, Satwa titipan, to a private elephant-trekking enterprise in Bali. This appears to have been a financial success, while the welfare of the elephants has remained a priority. Furthermore, funds are being raised here to support in situ Sumatran elephant conservation. The elephants are used to carry tourists through the villages and rice fields, except during the hottest periods of the day.

Births and young elephants

Very few babies have been born or have survived in the ECCs. The reason is said to be that the mahouts did not want to take a risk in allowing a bull in musth to mate with a female during the breeding season, because of potential injury. Also the mahouts preferred not to have the extra responsibility of having to look after a pregnant elephant. Social and physiological factors (e.g. not allowing elephants to mix together), can lead to psychological isolation, and may also have contributed to the low birth rate among the captive elephants (Sukumar, 1989). In addition, many calves born from elephants who were pregnant at the time of capture, died because they were rejected by their mother after she gave birth, and could not be successfully fostered or hand-reared (Lilley, 1998).

Carrying capacity of the ECCs

Based on individual carrying capacity and facilities, overall the centres have been filled to over-capacity and have become overcrowded (Lilley and Saleh, 1998). In order to solve the problem of too many trained but unused elephants in the centres, it was recommended to transfer them to logging sites, safari parks, zoos and tourism parks. Occasionally, elephants have been used to help local communities living around the centres in farming and plantation activities. The economics and technical aspects of this kind of use need to be explored further.

Physical and psychological stress factors

Most of the elephants in the centres are juveniles, sub-adults and young adults. It has been suggested that this is because these young animals were easier to catch than older, larger adult elephants. Most of the trained animals are in reasonable condition, although a few are noticeably thin. Workloads for trained elephants are very low, and so the animals are not stressed by long hours of heavy labour. Instead, they are stressed perhaps by under-activity, boredom, and lack of stimulation and contact with other elephants.

These problems were particularly evident when wild elephants were still being caught. The initial period of capture, and then the long journey to the centres by truck were very stressful, especially when the sedated elephants woke up during transit and had to be re-sedated. The new arrivals at the centres were then often tethered for months while they waited for their training to begin. Training was sometimes delayed for up to several months because of the lack of water, which is needed during training. During this period, they had very little opportunity for movement, or to find food or water by themselves. Consequently their condition deteriorated, they lost weight and became malnourished. This, combined with the overcrowded conditions and poor hygiene, increased the risk of infection (notably by internal parasites) and was evidenced by the presence of oedemas. This state of affairs continued until they were trained well enough to be taken further afield by their mahouts for self-feeding during the day.

Many captive elephants have suffered stress from inactivity, spending most days in drag chains and hobbles, and from inadequate access to food. The chaining or tethering of captive elephants is an acceptable procedure, especially during the night to prevent fighting, and as a valuable tool in the management of captive elephants. Continuous chaining should however be avoided, and the mahouts should provide as much time off chains as possible (Olson, 1999). Up to the time of writing, due largely to the poor management system, substandard diets, and a lack of veterinary medicines, a number of elephants in the ECCs are still in poor condition.

Record keeping

Although basic animal records are kept at each centre, they are far from comprehensive. Each centre uses a different format; and very little biological or behaviour data is recorded. Diagnostic or therapeutic notes are often limited to a single word, no record of work performance is kept, and no dietary notes are included. Moreover, the actual numbers of elephants that were caught, or that died during capture or in the centres, or had been transferred to other centres or to tourism sites is uncertain (Lilley and Saleh, 1998). In a culture where mistakes and failures are thought to be shameful, this strongly influences the tone and contents of (e.g. monthly) reports. While providing ample opportunities for production of problem-free reports, errors become difficult to track and correct, and the same mistakes tend to be made over and over again. This has serious implications both where finances are limited, and for the welfare of the elephants.

Diet and nutrition

During the recent economic crisis in Indonesia it has become increasingly hard for the government to maintain these centres, let alone to develop them to their full potential. The budget for the food supplement for domesticated elephants at all centres is very low, approximately US$1.50 per elephant per day. Food supplements vary from one centre to the other, and may include coconut leaves, bananas, banana stems, sugar cane, pineapple, papaya and king grass. There is no possibility of increasing the quantity and quality of supplementary food during the dry season to offset the reduction in natural vegetation. Because of the low food budget and rising food prices, this situation cannot be improved by simply buying in more food. Better management of natural resources could alleviate the problem considerably. The captive elephants are led out to graze during the day in land surrounding the centres, but all too often, these food sources become depleted, necessitating long walks to the next nearest food source.

Because of the limited supplemental diet presented to the elephants, it has become increasingly difficult to find certain foods (e.g. palm leaves) within a reasonable distance from the centres. Great distances need to be travelled by truck to find adequate daily supplies of food. Presently, local villagers are being paid to supply one of the centres with bananas, banana stalks, cassava roots, and sometimes pineapples. This is vastly more efficient in terms of reduced transportation costs, while at the same time providing the villagers living near to the centre with a financial incentive, thereby encouraging a more positive attitude towards the centre.

Water availability and quality

Poor water quality and lack of permanent water supplies are also problematic at each of the centres. Regular supplies of fresh water in some centres, especially for drinking and bathing during the dry season, have always been a problem (Lilley and Saleh, 1998). Again, elephants and their mahouts are often forced to travel considerable distances to find water. In addition, the quality of the water supply at some ECCs is also very poor. At the Sebanga site in Riau, for example, the Caltex laboratory examined the water quality of elephant's drinking areas, and found it to contain high concentrations of iron (Fe), cadmium (Cd) and lead (Pb). The high levels of lead in elephant blood may be related to the condition of the water sources surrounding the ECC. The Riau elephants exhibited high levels of lead (0.365-0.453 ppm) in their blood (Mikota et al., 2000). As a reference, the normal lead content for healthy elephants should be 0.000-0.3000 ppm. Continuous lead toxicity may cause anaemia in the animals.

Two of the centres are situated next to clear, fast flowing rivers, where the elephants can bathe and drink throughout the year. At most of the other sites, water availability is a serious problem, especially during the dry season. Small areas of stagnant, muddy water can easily lead to health problems, and in one case, pesticides from the surrounding farms had contaminated the stream adjacent to the site. The many problems caused by poor water quality and availability should be a major consideration when choosing future captive elephant sites.

Other health problems

Other common health problems for captive elephants in the centres are oedema, bloat, worm infections and wound infections (Lilley, 1998). Foot problems of captive elephants that are usually caused by injury, trauma or arthritic conditions have occurred at some ECCs. When an abscess develops and the elephant receives inadequate care, the infection reaches the toe digits and very few of these cases survive (Oosterhuis et al., 1997). Standing water is often contaminated with faeces, and a build-up of elephant dung around the sites has also contributed to the health problems, although at some sites some of the dung is scraped into piles and burned when it is dry enough (Lilley and Saleh, 1998). Because of relatively low understanding and poor hygiene awareness among the staff, there is a further risk of disease transfer from other animals (chickens, goats, cattle) kept at or near the centres, to mahouts and their elephants. It is possible that TB and certain worm species may be transferred from elephants to humans, and vice versa.

According to Lewis (1998), the main clinical problems that all centres face can be summarized as:

1) marginal nutrition, especially for juveniles and elephants under training, and to a variable degree for all animals during the dry season;

2) intestinal parasitism;

3) Superficial wounds arising out of training, most of which become infected. Incorrect ka (neck halter) design and use cause some serious neck injuries.

Many other clinical problems do occur of course, but if these three main problems are solved, the majority of animals should remain healthy and the financial demands on the veterinary budget will be substantially reduced. Even though the effects on the elephants' health are not critical, 40 percent of the captive elephants living in Bengkulu, Riau and Aceh are positively contaminated with blood parasites such as Babesia, Anaplasma and Theileria (Mikota et al., 2000).

Veterinary support

Most of the centres have inadequate supplies of veterinary drugs, consumables or equipment. None of the ECCs has even rudimentary veterinary rooms or facilities. Records, a meagre stock of veterinary medicines, equipment, and very limited laboratory facilities are housed wherever there is shelter. As a result, regular treatments for parasites are not possible. Some centres lack a reliable electricity supply or adequate backup generators, and there are almost no refrigeration facilities. The budget for veterinary supplies from the government is woefully inadequate, less than US$ 5.00 per elephant per month, especially given that most drugs are imported. In some cases, most of the centres hold insufficient injectable antibiotics to treat even a single adult elephant correctly. Vaccinations are very rare, syringes and needles are sometimes constantly reused, and supplies of anaesthetic and sedatives are erratic. Visits by the International Elephant Foundation and the FFI team have provided emergency aid to some ECCs in Aceh, Riau and Bengkulu, through provision of expertise, veterinary supplies and simple equipment.

ECC veterinarians

Most of the veterinarians are young and lack training in veterinary management of elephants, although most of them are keen to learn. Veterinary literature related to elephants is very limited, and there is a little contact or communication between vets at different centres. Vets have expressed a feeling of isolation, and a strong desire to meet others, including other ECC vets, and zoo vets working in their field (Lilley and Saleh, 1998). Veterinarians from zoos, safari parks and universities in the region could be invited to these meetings to share their expertise. There is a tendency for veterinarians to leave their field posts after two to three years because of professional isolation, low salary and no career structure, and then to be replaced by another inexperienced veterinarian. Information transfer between these old and new veterinarians is extremely rare. More recently, some fruitful collaboration has begun with veterinarians from overseas.


In general, the mahouts are relatively sympathetic to their charges and there is no hard evidence of wilful cruelty to the animals. The current economic crisis in Indonesia has meant that many of the mahouts have been unable to continue to work at the ECCs because their salaries (approximately US$35 per month) do not cover even the costs of basic needs such as food for themselves and their families. The position of some of the mahouts has become vulnerable because of local hostility towards them. A critical part of the ECCs is the development of a bond between mahout and elephant. These bonds, because of financial and security problems, are now being broken as some experienced mahouts move away in search of other work, or because their lives are being threatened.

Conclusions and recommendations

In general, all centers experience problems with encroachment on ECC land, lack of funds for day-to-day management, and low salaries for mahouts and veterinarians. Development of a management system and policy, and capacity building for staff are all urgently needed to improve the chances of long-term sustainability. Without greater links between in situ and ex situ programmes, and a failure to ensure that both wild and captive elephants are seen as an important resource, there will be continuing welfare problems at the ECCs. As a consequence, the essential genetic resource that these animals represent, as a potentially high percentage of the only valid subspecies of the Asian elephant, will be lost. Because of unique historical and cultural associations, both wild and captive elephants are an ideal flagship and indicator species for the conservation of forest and associated biodiversity in Sumatra and every effort should be made to protect them.

Although elephants are no longer being removed from the wild, the centers have important roles to play in regional elephant conservation, including:

1. Mitigation of"problem” elephants from conflict areas without culling. The centers should not only train"problem” elephants, but also support local communities to respond to and mitigate human-elephant conflicts that arise in problem areas. They learn to drive away"problem” wild elephant herds from areas of conflict to the forest by using captive elephants. The ECC elephants could be used to drive and relocate (if necessary) wild elephants, when they cause problems in legitimate agricultural areas.

2. Maintenance of traditional skills of elephant use and husbandry. A review of currently used training methods and equipment (largely from Thai trainers) and augmentation with training models from other range states would both enhance mahout skills and help to correct any bad habits that have developed in the training methods.

3. Conservation of important reservoirs of elephant genes. DNA profiles of all captive elephants will facilitate the choice of parent stock for captive breeding and for potential release of elephants into new areas.

4. Demonstration that elephants can be used humanely and productively. The centers could conduct wild elephant surveys, regulate elephant movements, train local communities to effectively deal with crop-raiding elephants, and develop a bioregional plan for forest and elephant conservation in Sumatra.

5. Captive elephants could be mobilized to patrol protected areas, and staff trained to monitor illegal forest encroachment from elephant back. Appropriate action could then be taken to bring the poachers to justice, and in the long term, help to save elephant habitat.

6. The centers could promote awareness about elephant behaviour and the plight of elephants in the wild. Being highly mobile, the centre staff and their elephants are in an ideal position to promote a positive profile of elephants through their physical presence in communities. This will generate a positive attitude among the wider public towards elephants. The centers can also function as education centres where general conservation issues can be introduced to various target groups.

7. Local communities should be encouraged to grow supplemental foods (e.g. rice husks (dedak), sweet corn husks (kulit jagung), bananas, yams/cassava (ubi), and others) for elephants, and then the centre can buy these from them at local market prices. The nutritional value, cost, and local availability of alternative supplemental foods need to be explored further. The provision of simple devices to make pellets could help to facilitate measurement of amounts given.

8. From the available information in existing ECCs, it should be possible to ascertain the carrying capacity of each proposed new ECC, in order to avoid future overcrowding. Factors include land area, availability of shade, drinking and bathing water, natural and supplemental food availability, status of surrounding land (chances of escaped elephants damaging crops), distance from other food and water sources, and accessibility for transport, electricity and communications.

9. A rotating land use system can be developed so that the vegetation in one area can recover while elephants feed in another area. This would also help to reduce soil compaction in heavily used areas.

10. Development of alternative permanent or semi-permanent posts to which elephants can be tethered. This would reduce the threat of strain and damage to shade trees to which elephants are currently tethered.

11. ECC veterinarians should be supported in order to have more frequent contact with other vets, and attend regular meetings where they can share their problems and experiences. A clearer career and wage structure would help to retain skilled vets at the centres.

12. Regular training for all ECC staff on basic elephant nutrition, basic foot and mouth care, clinical examination of elephants, basic therapeutics, wound management, clinical recording, basic laboratory and post mortem techniques;

13. Collaborative development of veterinary protocols in preventive medicine schedules (parasite control strategy, vaccinations, regular examination of animals, wound prevention, staff TB screening, etc), site hygiene - including the exclusion of domestic livestock, improved management of natural food resources and standardised animal records.

14. Review mahout training needs, career prospects and improve perception of their status as mahouts. Ensure regular payment of a fair wage, plus incentives and bonuses to encourage mahouts to stay at the centers longer. Improve the mahouts' living conditions, on-site living quarters, and transportation. Improve assistance for mahout families through development of co-operatives, savings and insurance schemes, and alternative income generation projects for mahouts and their wives living on site. Encourage greater use of mahouts in data collection for captive elephants.

15. Rational development of the centers should be based on scientific, educational and tourist potential.

16. Development of captive breeding programmes. A model for successful captive breeding is still not available for the ECCs, but there is a possibility of developing one through investigations into the reproductive biology of captive elephants.

In order to resolve the problem of overcrowded captive elephant populations, another option is to disband the existing centres, and/or redistribute the elephants in smaller groups to a number of new areas throughout the island. These could perhaps be named Conservation Response Units (CRUs), where the elephants are allowed to range more freely, and find their own food and water, while still under the watchful eyes of their mahouts. This would considerably reduce the costs of feeding, reduce the risks of disease through poor nutrition and overcrowding, and thereby reduce veterinary costs. Bearing in mind that human-elephant conflicts are still likely to occur in many places, strategically located centers would allow a more rapid response with reduced transport costs when using the trained elephants to deal with wild problem elephants. Worked-out, abandoned timber concessions that are mainly scrub and secondary forest would seem to be ideal locations for this purpose. The elephants from the CRUs could be mobilized to patrol, and staff trained to monitor illegal forest encroachment from elephant-back.

Moreover, if carefully designed and well managed, the new CRUs could become interesting places with great educational value for local people, tourists and school children to visit, and then truly merit the title"Elephant Conservation Centers”. Ideally, the centers would be self-financing, without the need for further exploitation of elephants as mere circus freaks. It is high time that elephants are again given the respect they once had, rather than being forced to earn their keep by helping to destroy their own diminishing wild habitats in logging concessions.

In addition, a number of privately run enterprises similar to the Bali Trekking venture could be established and run, provided that strict criteria for elephant welfare were met and then regularly monitored. Ways of encouraging investment in the use of elephants by tour operators, hoteliers and tourist resorts should be explored. The dignity and welfare of the animals should always be a prime consideration. It is still necessary to design saddles or howdah that are suitable, safe and comfortable for both elephants and riders. The same applies to the platforms from which riders can mount and descend from the elephants.

The Sumatran Elephant Trust

It should be clear from this paper that many of the problems faced by elephants in Indonesia are due largely to mismanagement and lack of support and coordination among the various authorities and organizations responsible for elephant welfare. Thus, to integrate all efforts for Sumatran elephant conservation once and for all, the establishment of an International Sumatran Elephant Trust is being proposed. The Trust will act as an umbrella organization, overseeing all activities concerned with Sumatran elephants, while ensuring that the responsibility for day-to-day management remains firmly with the various Trust members and their respective projects. Ongoing monitoring and feedback systems will be developed to ensure that standards are maintained, support is promptly given, and that problems are identified and addressed at an early stage.

The Trust will provide support to all field projects related to elephant conservation (in situ and ex situ programmes), and technical assistance. The legal status will be that the Trust belongs to Indonesia, and may have branches that in law are non-profit organizations. The Trust will be responsible for management and distribution of trust funds, revenue generation via accumulation of interest, and fund raising. Several potential donors have already expressed their commitment to supporting the Trust. The Trust will be financially fully accountable to all the stakeholders, and show transparency in the management of funds. All information regarding the activities of the Fund and projects supported by the Fund will be regularly shared with all stakeholders. The stakeholders will appoint the initial board of trustees.

The organizational structure will be developed from organizations or institutions that have a vested interest in conservation and the potential to lend technical or financial support to elephant conservation, e.g. NGOs, zoos, universities and research institutes. The Trust will develop and maintain links with all relevant international elephant conservation bodies, and aims to become the main initial point of contact for those interested in elephant conservation in Indonesia.


Basry, M.H. & I. Alfian. 1997. The Dutch Colonial War in Aceh. The Documentation and Information Centre of Aceh, Banda Aceh.

Djamil, M.J. 1958. Gajah Putih Iskandar Muda. Lembaga Kebudayaan Atjeh, Kutaraja.

Groning, K. & M. Saller. 1998. Elephants: A cultural and natural history. Konemann Verlagsgesellschaft, Germany.

Lair, R.C. 1997. Gone astray: The care and management of the Asian elephant in domesticity. FAO/RAP, Bangkok.

Lewis, J. 1998. A veterinary assessment of Sumatran Elephant Training Centres. Fauna and Flora International, Cambridge.

Lilley, R.P.H., & C. Saleh. 1998. Captive elephants in crisis. WWF Report on a Survey of Elephant Training Centres in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Mikota, S.K., H. Hammat, W. Azmi & B.O. Manullang. 2000. Medical evaluation of captive elephants in Sebanga Duri Elephant Conservation Centre, Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. Audubon Centre for Research of Endangered Species, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

Oosterhuis, J.E., A. Roocroft & L.J. Gage. 1997. Elephant foot care workshop. AAZV Annual Conference, Houston, Texas.

Sukumar, R. 1989. The Asian elephant: Ecology and management. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Suprayogi, B., Do Tuoc & T.V. Cuong. 2000. Potential solution for the conservation of Asian elephants in human dominated landscape of Binh Thuan Province, Vietnam. FFI-Indochina Inception Report, Viet Nam.

Conservation organizations working on elephant conservation in Sumatra:

1. Fauna and Flora International - Indonesia Programme (FFI-IP): in situ programmes - landscapes, policy development, education and awareness, conflict mitigation, community participation, and genetic sampling in Aceh and North Sumatra provinces, and for ex situ programmes in Aceh, Riau and Bengkulu provinces.

2. World Wide Fund for Nature - Indonesia Programme (WWF-IP): focussing on policy and conflict mitigation in Riau and Lampung provinces.

3. World Conservation Society - Indonesia Programme (WCS-IP): focussing on population research and conflict mitigation in Lampung province.

4. IEF in collaboration with FFI-SECP to support ex situ elephant programmes (captive elephant healthcare) in ECC's in Aceh, Bengkulu and Riau.

Question and answer session

Q1: Are the ETCs now formally called Elephant Conservation Centers? How have their functions changed?

A1: Yes, since 1999. They no longer capture wild elephants, but have more of a research and educational function. Training elephants stopped in 1998.

Q2: Why is it not possible to use domesticated elephants in ecotourism?

A2: It is possible, but there are financial constraints on ecotourism development. ECCs depend on government funds that are limited.

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