August has been a busy month for IEF, bringing us back to Sumatra. Conservation Coordinator Sarah Conley went to Bengkulu and the Conservation Response Unit in Seblat. Going across the world to see elephants is an exciting experience, but far from easy. As wild places disappear, getting to them takes more and more effort. Once in Indonesia, a small plane ride into Bengkulu begins the journey, leading to a 5-hour ride through the lowland forests on unpaved roads past combinations of scenic vistas, scattered settlements, and mining concessions. From there it’s only a canoe ride across a river and a short hike up a mountain to get to the CRU camp.
Like the mahouts and forest rangers in the other CRU camps, the Seblat staff is proud and excited about their work and the animals they care for. The Seblat forest is a plot of protected habitat that’s home to tigers, tapir, hornbill, siamangs, and of course critically endangered Sumatran elephants. Moreover, this protected piece of ‘wild’ only exists because of the CRU program and IEF’s initiation of the project and years of support. It’s an indescribable feeling to be standing amongst habitat whose entire existence is a result of work done by your organization; one is all at once thankful, proud, and energized to push further and fight harder for wild things and wild places.
IEF representatives, mahouts, veterinarians, and officials from the Forest Department all ventured into the forest to check on the CRU elephants who are partners in the patrols. They enjoy a stunning area with tall grasses and a small river, where the mahouts bathe and play with their elephants. We even got to interact with and check up on Elena, an approximately 6-year-old orphaned elephant who was found abandoned and in dire need of life-saving medical attention and food. She’s healthy, growing, and spunky-just as a young elephant should be.
One of the strengths of these programs is their connection to the community. The mahouts and rangers were often born and raised in the area, and spend their time in the communities neighboring the protected region. These connections and interactions are invaluable at spreading and creating a community consensus for conservation. As more and more locals are educated and committed to conservation, the stronger and more sustainable conservation efforts become. They love the work they’re doing, and we love them for doing it.