Lets Drink to Make a Difference

A year ago I was contacted by an entrepreneur named Brent Scott. He was in the processing of developing teas for conservation initiatives and wanted permission to use two images of Bona. I was happy to oblige as anything that helps in wildlife conservation in terms of product development is something the world needs more of. Now the products are finally here and Brent’s hard work is all coming to fruition.

The world needs more people like Brent Scott creating products that make a difference like this amazing kindred spirits tea that was created to support wildlife conservation. Bona’s flavour is Chocolate Vanilla Chai Tea. A percentage of the profits are donated towards supporting individual causes. Read the Kindredspiritstea mission statement here and purchase the teas here.

Chocolate Vanilla Chai Tea

Chocolate Vanilla Chai Tea

Vanilla Black Tea

Vanilla Black Tea

Midnight Blue Chamomile Tea

Midnight Blue Chamomile Tea

Cherry Blossom Green Tea

Cherry Blossom Green Tea

Coconut Mint Green Tea

Coconut Mint Green Tea

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Protecting TWA Seblat Conservation Area

For the island Sumatra it is a constant battle on all corners to try to win the war on protecting the remaining natural habitat for it’s critically endangered species. The constant battle for equilibrium to co-exist with these amazing animals and the fight against pure greed will be one that is fought for many years to come.

The TWA Seblat Conservation Area is one habitat in the north of the province of Bengkulu. The last remaining natural habitat for 37 wild elephants that call this jungle paradise home. Unfortunately in the last 12 months a coal mining company (PT Inmas Abadi) neighbouring the TWA Seblat Conservation Area has been seeking approval to expand its mining sector to include a vast area of the protected TWA Seblat. This was initially and rightly so rejected by the Ministry for Forestry in Jakarta, but that rejection has now been challenged and initially supported to proceed by the acting Governor of Bengkulu.

Elephants are just on critically endangered species that populate the TWA Seblat Conservation Area.

It’s not difficult to understand the incredible impact this would have on the remaining species calling Seblat home and a short term financial gain for some will have further long term and devastating impacts on the local communities and the conservation of the critically endangered species like the Sumatran elephants and Sumatran tigers as well as many other species.

Bathing the patrl elephants before continuing to protect TWA Seblat

The long term future for the last remaining natural habitats throughout the island of Sumatra is to find balance in co-existing and create more sustainable futures for the local communities in celebrating such habitats and these amazing animals. It is not possible to continue destroying these habitats without any thought to the future and luckily there are enough people in the local communities of Bengkulu who are willing to fight for what is right.

The view TWA Seblat

A local community of NGO’s and special interest groups have banded together to try to fight this request to use the protected forest of Seblat for mining. Showing the local government the long term impacts and the potential for sustainable use for the local communities through programs such as eco tourism.

Local communities working to stop the mining of TWA Seblat

conserve this amazing habitat

For local tourism and the potential for international visitors it is so important to capitalise on the amazing opportunity that is on the doorstep of so many local communities. The potential for tourism will certainly provide a living for the local villages for many years to come and help sustain the habitat that is so precious for the endangered species of Sumatra.

TWA Seblat an aerial view

A list of requests to in order to stop the use of TWA Seblat from being mined for coal.

1. Requesting the Indonesian Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya to maintain the Seblat Landscape forest area to be home to the Sumatran Elephant charismatic animal in the Bengkulu region and reject all requests from PT Inmas Abadi to obtain a borrowing permit to use the forest area for mining.

2. Requested the Acting Governor of Bengkulu, Rohidin Mersyah, to revoke the PT Inmas Abadi Mining Business License (IUP) and conduct a moratorium on the granting of mining IUPs in Bengkulu Province.

3. Requesting the Department of Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM) of Bengkulu Province to open the IUP document of PT Inmas Abadi’s production operations.

4. Request the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources to revoke the status of PT Inmas Abad CnC.

TWA Seblat an aerial view.

Camp PLG Seblat

TWA Seblat is the home of many diverse species

We need to find a way to co-exist

This battle to stop the mining of TWA Seblat is significant. Not only for the habitat itself but also for the local communities to know that they can have a voice and they can influence decisions that are better suited for the long term benefits even when the opposite is being proposed. This will help shape the future for many protected habitats around the island of Sumatra and will be a win for the long term future.

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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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Wow How Bona Has Grown

Wow how Bona has grown!! What a difference 6 years makes for Bona. From mid 2012 when she was just a tiny little girl with no spirit and no energy to the gorgeous (and still naughty) big girl she has become today. Showing all her brothers and sisters who the real boss is. She is in incredible health these days enjoying her time floating around

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Strike a Pose

Mother and daughter strike the same pose. Standing on the banks of the Air Seblat River in north Bengkulu, Bona in the early days grew into a naughty personality as her health returned. She looks like she could be dreaming up my next 5am milk run or deciding if she is yet strong enough to take on the torrents of the river and follow Aswita across to gather food. None the less I really love this photo.



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Bona Feels the Love

Interesting story behind this photo and greeting from Bona to a new arrival.

THE BACK STORY: For an estimated 17 years two Sumatran elephants named Natasha and Dino would entertain the locals on the beach front of Bengkulu, Sumatra, Indonesia. Taking kids and families for rides up and down the beach on most days. Until one evening a local man broke into their holding area and from all accounts began to antagonize the big boy Dino by playing with his nether region. Sorry my safest description. This did not end well for the local man and I am sure you can use your imagination to fill that gap.

THE RESULT: After this unfortunate event Natasha and Dino were ordered to be transported to the elephant conservation center 4 hours north of Bengkulu. They were transported in the evening hours and arrived at the camp late in the evening. I was at the camp upon their arrival still hand feeding Bona on a daily basis. I remember their arrival and the shrill sounds of panic coming from both Natasha and Dino in the middle of the night who only ever knew life among crowds living on the beach. Who had only had each other for company for 17 years. The wild pigs were not a familiar sight and would fill them with fear and elephants screaming is not a sound one can sleep on.

THE NEXT DAY: Upon the morning light Bona had decided to investigate the new arrivals focusing on Natasha Bona put on a confused show of dominance and love for Natasha, which was hilarious to view. Bona

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Big Girl Bona

While working on implementing the Breeding Program project in Seblat, Bengkulu it was nice to take some time out to see my baby girl Bona. I have been so busy in Sumatra so it has been a little while since catching up with Bona. She still remembers and still likes to remind me who the boss always is. It wouldn’t be Bona if she wasn’t still a little naughty.
Now Bona is a plump 700kg+ and in great health and truly getting big and as loud as ever trumpeting away at other family members if anyone annoys her or steps on her toes. Links and info below to follow and support my elephant projects.


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support this photography project > patreon/brucelevick

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The Way She Was

The first week with Bona she was a scary sight. She couldn’t have been more than a few weeks away from death in her state. She was literally lifeless, could hardly walk and had no spirit. Her spirit was certainly drained. Literally you could see every bone in her body as she struggled from A to B. After 6 months of sugar water provided by the locals as a supplement for milk I guess it was to be expected. Thankfully Bona took to our supplements, a mixture of baby milk formula, marsupial milk replacer (Wombaroo) combined with coconut milk hot water a dose of love and 7 months later of hand feeding this gorgeous girl the rewards are priceless and nothing will ever take away that prode of knowing my actions saved a this gorgeous girls life.

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Feeding Bona (VIDEO)

Ah remembering those days of commitment to feeding the precious Bona 4 times a day. Always the lunch time feed was very interesting, trekking into the jungle and never knowing exactly where Bona was but always she ended up finding me if I called her as she knew I had her favourite meal…

Feeding Bona from Bruce Levick on Vimeo.

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