This little guy still isn’t used to humans so much being a new born in the elephant conservation center of the way Kambas national park. So the closer I got to photograph him the more defensive he became with his mum keeping a keen eye on things.
I spent 7 months hand raising Bona and during those months I tried my darndest to implement a system for the two local (carers) mahouts so they could help with the daily milk feeds in the event of my absence when I needed to be back in the city. I succeeded in convincing one carer to provide regular feeds in that time but the second carer was a little more stubborn. It wasn’t until towards the end of the seven months that the second carer participated in a milk feed one afternoon.
A lot of my photos include elements that for very obvious reasons people dislike. That’s just the nature of the situation and it’s natural for me to want to ducument the reality of the situation for the elephants be it good or bad. One of those issues is the use of bull hooks by the elephant carers in Sumatra. Some people argue (trust me they do) in the right hands and used correctly it is no problem while others argue that they should never ever be used and are a cruel method for directing an elephant. Well as my documentary work here keeps shifting gears and I find myself in more and more situations to actually help with my own projects I am quite interested to hear comments on this and the preferred alternatives. Please comment below…
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.