ECC Seblat

Baby Bona Finding Strength

The story of Bona finding her strength.

This photo is available on the online store as a print. The proceeds go a long way in Sumatra to support this work.

Bona’s family of 7 adults fell prey to the poisonous fruits placed by palm oil farmers. These poisonous fruits are there to prevent “pests” from disturbing the farms. It is true. To the locals elephants are considered PESTS!
Within a 24 hour period Bona had lost her mother and entire herd of 7 adults. Bona was only saved by the fact that she was only 6 months old at the time and was not yet eating solids.

After 3 days of wandering through the palm oil plantations lost and alone Bona was finally rescued and brought to a government run elephant conservation center in Bengkulu, Sumatra specifically organized for “problem elephants” that come into conflict with locals and enter villages.

Bona’s First 6 months was a tumultous period of attempting to find her the right supplements for her milk. Early attempts from locals were not successful and Bona suffered from severe malnutrition until the right formula was found from Australia. Bona’s transformation from near death to a healthy young girl in the space of only a few months was amazing to witness and to personally take on the responsibility of hand raising Bona for 7 months, feeding 4 times a day and often having Bona waking me up at 5am for breakfast. This is something that will last with me forever.

This particular photo was taken during the first two weeks of attempting the new milk formula for Bona. You can see how malnourished Bona is and see her bone structure. This is a very personal photo for me. Bona had attached herself to her surrogate mother Aswita at the elephant conservation center. Every afternoon the elephants are taken across the river to collect their food for the night. In the early days Bona was too weak to follow across the river. So still feeling the raw sense of abandonment from losing her entire family, Bona would stand as close to the river as possible and simply wail and scream at the top of her lungs at Aswita. She could not handle at all being left alone for even 5 minutes. Aswita would also respond in kind, as if to say “just hold on for a minute, I will be right back”.

To sit there and listen to a 1 year old elephant scream at the top of her lungs is a guttural and heart breaking sound to experience. So to me this photo brings me right back to that moment. I can still hear the cries today. But of course Bona is now a very strong and healthy 7 year old and crossing the river on her own is now just part of her daily ritual.

This print is now available on the online store. Any support for my work is much appreciated where proceeds go to our elephant projects and documentary photography book Elephants of Sumatra – The Final Stand.

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Nobody Likes the Chains Including Bona

Nobody likes to see elephants in chains. Especially baby Bona with Aswita her surrogate mother. As illustrated in one of my favorite photos I have taken over the last 6 years documenting the elephants of Sumatra. Sitting watching baby Bona at 2+ years old free to roam and frolic but often wondering why mother Aswita could not join her. On this particular afternoon it dawned on Bona that the chains were holding Aswita back to roam free and frolic around the camp as Bona often would. So Bona started trying to paw at the chains to try to remove them from Aswita. It dawned on me as I sat there snapping photos and realizing what was happening. Here is a two year old elephant that has the presence of mind to see a problem and try to find a solution. I always new how incredibly intelligent elephants were from my experiences of hand raising Bona in the elephant camp but to see this playing out in front of me was an incredibly eye opening experience coming from a 2 year old elephant.

I know how the majority will react to this photo. Utter disbelief and outrage. Chains don

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Aerial View

Electric Fence / Breeding Program

This is the layout from the air for the electric fence and the grass plantations to be used for food stock for the elephants.

This is actually going to provide a number of solutions for the elephants of PLG Seblat. For those disagreeing with a breeding program, I truly believe you do not even know what you are disagreeing with. So please have an open mind and listen to these words or for further details see the link in the bio.

First off we are all in the same boat, we want what is best for these elephants and this solution is purely to improve their lives as priority number 1. Secondly if you disagree with this then you need to hear the other option. For 25 years these elephants have been wrapped in chains and every evening after their daily baths they are chained to trees in separate locations away from each other with no opportunity to socialize with their herd, to be free of chains and no opportunity if given the chance to breed. To continue with that unfortunate scenario is not an option in my opinion. So due to the circumstances of having to be in this elephant conservation camp (see link in bio for info or follow along here for more info) these elephants deserve a better quality of life and that is what this project will provide. Inside this enclosure every night they will be 1) FREE OF CHAINS. 2) BE ABLE TO SOCIALIZE AS A HERD. 3) HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO BREED. 4) ULTIMATELY HAVE A BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE.

This is not a

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On location delivering elephant conservation projects in PLG Seblat, Bengkulu. Projects that are officially supported and signed off on in an MoU by the government of Indonesia. You cannot tell by this photo how many rejections it took to get to this position. How many meetings, the time taken to work through all the loopholes. How many years of working through the system just to get here. This is actually years in the making this photo. Me in my official NGO tee actually achieving things and implementing projects at many points I never thought would be possible. Working through the doubters, the haters and the trolls. I could have easily given up and just focused on my photography but that will always be there. Starting from scratch creating my own local NGO with my Indonesian wife to finding enough funds and working through the system and juggling both not knowing if success will come. That is a stressful position to be in and a definite swim against the tide. I am committed to doing my part for these precious animals. It is only a small part but step by step we can implement projects that will help turn things around for the elephants of Sumatra. I thank you all for following along to this point. It only gets better from here. X



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Tranquil Elephant Camp

The elephant camp of PLG Seblat is just the most magical spot looking out over the Air Seblat river while listening to nature, the gibbons and the hornbills calls ringing out over the jungles of TWA Seblat Conservation Area.

This is the location of our current project building an electric fence for the camp elephants to give them a better quality of life and a chance to socialize and breed. In more than 25 years there has never been a new born in PLG Seblat and we intende to change that and you

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Camouflage Camera Traps

Our attempts to camouflage camera traps were met with mixed results. Poachers and loggers have an appetite for destruction if they spot a camera.

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Burning Bridges

The patrol unit of the province of Bengkulu Sumatra in the TWA Seblat Conservation Area burn a makeshift bridge used by poachers and loggers to get access deep into the conservation area for the purpose of logging and poaching endangered species. This is unfortunately a very common occurrence.

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Remembering her 2nd Birthday

Remembering the days Bona turned 2. We made her a fruit “cake” in the shape of the two. She lapped it up in under 5 minutes.

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A beautiful View…

Breakfast time in the jungles of South Sumatra where the conservation center elephants collect their food on a daily basis after having their morning baths…

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Bona in the early days was always curious on what her then surrogate mother Aswita was eating. Bona learnt a lot from Aswita on how to handle and break down palm leaves to munch on…

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