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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’t belong on elephants. ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!

So before you shoot off emotionally and burn me at the social media stake. Take a moment to understand. I am not promoting this act, just documenting it. Now from my six years of documenting and now working with the elephants in Sumatra I have actually created an avenue and a way to improve the lives of these camp elephants. We can remove the chains and even provide better daily care, the correct diet, opportunities for these elephants to socialize and even breed. So by all means breath fire if that is your initial reaction, but then take action as I am. Just commenting doesn’t solve anything. Act on those feelings too. All the info is in the links here or the link in the bio.

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TO SUPPORT OR DONATE FOLLOW THESE LINKS OR LINK IN BIO

Donate online > elephantsofsumatra.com
Support the many elephant projects > berdiri.org
Support the elephants of Sumatra documentary photography project > patreon/brucelevick

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Nelson of Seblat

Nelson the gentle giant and king of the land. Taking a morning stroll around the elephant conservation center overlooking the swollen Air Seblat River.

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TO SUPPORT OR DONATE FOLLOW THESE LINKS OR LINK IN BIO

Donate online > elephantsofsumatra.com
Support the many elephant projects > berdiri.org
Support the elephants of Sumatra documentary photography project > patreon/brucelevick

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Nelson the Beautiful

I think this will be one of my favorite shots of Nelson. The big boy and KING of PLG Seblat is the gentlest giant in Sumatra. How can you not but fall in love with these amazing animals.

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TO SUPPORT OR DONATE FOLLOW THESE LINKS OR LINK IN BIO

Donate online > elephantsofsumatra.com
Support the many elephant projects > berdiri.org
Support the elephants of Sumatra documentary photography project > patreon/brucelevick

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Ucok Snack Time

It is afternoon snack time and Ucok is constantly trying to fill his quota for the day. The big boy is part of the elephant conservation center of PLG Seblat in Bengkulu and will hopefully play a big part in helping grow the population of this critically endangered amazing animal.

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TO SUPPORT OR DONATE FOLLOW THESE LINKS OR LINK IN BIO

Donate online > elephantsofsumatra.com
Support the many elephant projects > berdiri.org
Support the elephants of Sumatra documentary photography project > patreon/brucelevick

Read more

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 “forced” breeding program or harmful in any way and only serves to improve the lives of these elephants that are in this position through no fault of their own.

So for a critically endangered incredible animal such as the Sumatran elephant, a breeding program sits high on the priority, at least that is my perspective. How can you disagree considering the other option? Releasing them back into the wild is not an option as I know some of you will suggest. Not until we humans take responsibility for our actions. This is where it starts.

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TO SUPPORT OR DONATE FOLLOW THESE LINKS OR LINK IN BIO

Donate online > elephantsofsumatra.com
Support the many elephant projects > berdiri.org
Support the elephants of Sumatra documentary photography project > patreon/brucelevick

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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 “the back yard” of PLG Seblat. Hopefully to continue for many years to come and one day be a part of the breeding program to play her role in helping the amazing elephants of Sumatra.

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TO SUPPORT OR DONATE FOLLOW THESE LINKS OR LINK IN BIO

Donate online > elephantsofsumatra.com
Support the many elephant projects > berdiri.org
Support the elephants of Sumatra documentary photography project > patreon/brucelevick

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The Orphans

Remembering Agam. The precious orphan of Aceh despite the support never pulled through.

The orphans of the elepghants of Sumatra are unfortunately the result of the issues we as humans create. Elephants naturally travel in large herds and the infants will feed from the mother for sometimes up to two years or more prior to moving full time onto solid foods. A baby elephant will become separated and is (unfortunately often) orphaned for many reasons in Sumatra.

1. From falling into the many unused wells and unable to escape, the herd will move on leaving the baby with just pure luck of being found by locals and brought back to the nearest elephant conservation centers to be cared for.

2. Herds will often wander into nearby oil palm plantations. Elephants and any other wildlife for that matter are considered PESTS by the locals and often poisoned fruit is left for the elephants to consume and within a short period will die. In the case of infant elephants that are not yet on solid foods they will be left next to their non responsive family whaling for them to wake up. Again it is pure luck if these orphans are discovered and brought back to the nearest elephant conservation center.

3. Inside all protected forests on the island of Sumatra there are many battles to save all endangered species. Forest police and patrols alike carrying out surveys checking for illegal activity and often coming across snares that are left for tigers or sun bears. Sometimes these snares inadvertently capture baby elephants. Again it is the case where the family herd will move on if the baby cannot be released from such an awful trap. Again with any luck these babies are discovered and cared for by the nearest elephant conservation center.

It is hard to know how many orphans there are every year within the forests of Sumatra. We only know of the documented ones that are discovered by chance. Sometimes these stories have a happy ending and sometimes they do not. But we as humans must keep fighting and righting the wrongs that we have created.

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TO SUPPORT OR DONATE FOLLOW THESE LINKS OR LINK IN BIO

Donate online > elephantsofsumatra.com
Support the many elephant projects > berdiri.org
Support the elephants of Sumatra documentary photography project > patreon/brucelevick

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Achievements

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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TO SUPPORT OR DONATE FOLLOW THESE LINKS OR LINK IN BIO

Donate online > elephantsofsumatra.com
Support the many elephant projects > berdiri.org
Support the elephants of Sumatra documentary photography project > patreon/brucelevick

Read more