A close up “portrait” of Harris. This is one of my favourite shots of any of my 10’s of 1000’s of photos I have taken over the last 5 years. I think this image really evokes some emotions from the scarred tusks of Harris showing the harsh life he has gone through from circus elephant to now residing and patrolling the forests of TWA Seblat.
This was my morning view for 7 whole months bottle feeding baby Bona. Most mornings she would knock on my cabin door at 5am trying to wake me up so she could get her morning milk. This particular morning she never came knocking but I found her in front of my cabin munching on the grass in the field. I think this was the signal of change for her feeding habits.
I’ve learnt over the years documenting the beautiful elephants of Sumatra that there is nothing more enjoyable for a baby elephant than getting completely covered in mud after a bath in the river or a big rainstorm in the rainy season. It’s a funny sight to see a Bona rolling around in the fresh mud enjoying herself. Such a presious sight to see.
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After Bona started returning to health from the early days of bottle feeding it was decided by the mahouts of PLG Seblat that she needed some simple training with the support of an NGO vet to keep an eye on proceedings. Due to Bona’s circumstances she could never be re-released back into the wild so for her and the camp staffs best interest it was very important for her to receive some simple training for her life in the camp and to help on the elephant patrols in the future. Let me be clear there is no “CRUSHING” or “BREAKING OF THE SPIRIT” here in Sumatra as you might find in some parts of Thailand still. Bona’s training included being tethered to a larger male elephant (Nelson) and being gently led around the camp with fruit treats to reward her for a good job when following her new orders. Bona in the early days learnt the simple commands to start and stop walking, commands given to her by her regular mahout. She was very receptive but would often loose patience and in times of rest she would often play with her tether and try to remove it. Understandably. Bona is a big 6 year old now and has adjusted very well to her camp life. She sometimes looks like she has ambitions to rule the camp one day and occasionally the senior elephants have to let her know who is boss.
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Twice daily the elephants cross the river to collect their food from the nearby palm oil plantations. Sadly ironic the palm fronds provide a daily diet but the plantations are largely responsible for the reason the elephants are of a critically endangered status. Habitat destruction to expand plantations forces elephants to stray into nearby palm oil plantations and farmers often hang poisoned fruit in the trees, killing all adult elephants and making orphans of youngsters dependant on milk from thier mother. In the rare case adult elephants are captured before they are killed, they end up in the various elephant camps across Sumatra like the elephant crossing this river in Seblat, Bengkulu.