Elephant Conservation Program


Utilisation of Captive Elephants and Mahouts for Conservation

Improved and additional strategies are needed to better protect remaining wildlife habitats and wildlife. The utilisation of small groups of captive elephants and Mahouts (4 – 8 Individuals) in so called conservation or patrol units is a concept that has been successfully developed during the past 10 years in Sumatra, and today contributes significantly to the conservation of wild elephants, tigers, other wildlife and their habitats in several locations. To maintain the positive outcomes of this concept it is crucial to maintain and strengthen these units to be able to continue the following activities:

  • Forest patrols to detect and prevent illegal activities such as logging, poaching, land encroachment.
  • Human Wildlife Conflict management and prevention.
  • Education and awareness in local communities surrounding wildlife habitat.
  • Eco-tourism development as alternative income source for local communities.
  • Wild elephant, tiger,and other wildlife monitoring and, if needed, rescues and translocations.
  • Supporting wildlife conservation research projects.

A significant lack of law enforcement and understanding about the importance of forest preservation amongst local communities and lack of sufficient human wildlife conflict mitigation strategies are major causes for illegal logging, poaching, and land encroachment in many of the few remaining forest areas in Sumatra. The above listed activities conducted by the elephant units during the past years have significantly contributed to the conservation of threatened forest areas, which are home to highly endangered Sumatran wildlife.

Regular veterinary care is provided for programs where captive elephants are used for different Sumatran wildlife conservation activities in the following programs and areas:

CRU Sampoinet CRU Mane CRU Trumon CRU Cot Gireet
Location Aceh Jaya Aceh Pidie South Aceh East Aceh
Number of elephants 6 5 4 4
Managed by FFI-Aceh Program/ BKSDA Aceh FFI-Aceh Program / BKSDA Aceh LIF (Leuser International Foundation)/ BKSDA Aceh LIF (Leuser International Foundation) / BKSDA Aceh
Forest patrols X X X X
HEC Mitigation X X X X
Eco tourism
Education X X X X
CRU Tangkahan EPU Aras Napal ERU Bungur ERU Tegal Yoso EPU Bukit Barisan Selatan CRUSeblat
Location North Sumatra / Langkat North Sumatra / Langkat Lampung / Way Kambas National Park Lampung / Way Kambas National Park Lampung / BBS National Park Seblat / Bengkulu
Number of elephants 8 5 4 4 5 8
Managed by Vesswic / BKSDA Aceh LIF (Leuser International Foundation) Way Kambas National Park Department (WKNPD) / Vesswic Way Kambas National Park Department (WKNPD) / Vesswic BBS National Park Department / WWF / WKNPD BKSDA Bengkulu / Vesswic
Forest patrols X X X X X X
HEC Mitigation X X X X X X
Eco tourism X X X
Education X X X


The elephant patrol units of CRU Sampoinet, CRU Mane, ECC Saree and CRU Tangkahan, who do not have any access to local veterinarians on site are visited every six weeks. The patrol units in Lampung and Seblat are located in or close to the government Elephant Conservation Camps which are equipped with a government veterinarian and therefore are only visited every three months to support veterinary care in co-operation with the government veterinarian in charge.

The project activities will be carried out in all provinces of Sumatra where populations of wild elephants and other endangered species such as tigers and rhinos still exist, with a special focus on the provinces of Aceh, North-Sumatra, Lampung, and Bengkulu.

With a remaining population of about 2000 Sumatran elephants in the wild, this unique subspecies is highly endangered and in threat of extinction. Fragmentation of the population, human elephant conflicts (HEC), habitat encroachment, and the illegal killing of elephants require various types of efforts to ensure the conservation of the Sumatran elephant. Many other endangered Sumatran wildlife species are facing very similar threats as the elephants, including the   less than 400 wild Sumatran tigers. .

To ensure protection of the remaining habitats and wildlife, this projects supports the utilisation of captive elephants and mahouts in patrol units at the border of such habitats conducting various conservation activities such as patrolling, law enforcement in and around the protected areas, HEC mitigation, local community conservation education, eco tourism development as alternative income resource for local communities, and conservation research.

Besides support for the maintenance and operation of such elephant units, the program also provides regular veterinary care for elephants in such units throughout Sumatra and ensures these elephants’ health and welfare, thus ensuring these elephant can be utilized reliably for the various wildlife conservation activities. This program also provides training to mahouts and staff about the basics of medical management of elephants, daily health care needs, and elephant biology.

Besides providing regular veterinary care for captive elephants to ensure their health so they can be successfully utilized in such elephants units, veterinary expertise very often is crucially needed to successfully conduct many elephant, tiger, and other wildlife conservation activities and programs, especially in cases such as translocation of wild elephants, treatment of wild elephants, tigers, and other wildlife injured during human wildlife conflicts, rescuing wild elephants and other wildlife species trapped in snares and wells or confiscated from illegal trade. Cases involving Sumatran tigers have significantly increased during the past years and Vesswic increasingly gets requests to provide veterinary expertise and technical support to handle such cases.   Furthermore Vesswic provides veterinary support to conduct post-mortems on wild elephants and other endangered wildlife found dead, reliably sedating wildlife for fitting GPS collars, and collecting biomaterial and data for infectious disease surveillance.

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