Fighting illegal logging with elephants in Sumatra

Fighting illegal logging with elephants in Sumatra


23rd February 2012

In a small Indonesian village, elephant eco-tourism is providing locals with an alternative living to logging and helping halt the destruction of the rainforest

In the village of Tangkahan, twice-weekly elephant patrols equipped with a pawang (mahout) and a few travellers wander the rainforest in an effort to deter illegal logging in Gunung Leuser National Park, northern Sumatra. Illegal logging in Indonesia is a huge  problem; the WWF reports a staggering 80% of the nation’s wood supply originates from illicit sources.

The village was built on the logging trade during the 1980s. The area consequently suffered from severe deforestation, a rise in palm oil plantations and substantial erosion.

Indecon, a non-governmental organisation educating locals about eco-tourism, introduced the grass-roots scheme to provide a sustainable and alternative source of income for the community.

The wild elephants used on the patrols were relocated from Aceh, where their habitat had been obliterated. The rehabilitated elephants were trained to carry people and now form the Conservation Response Unit (CRU).

“Sometimes we see the illegal loggers − we cannot arrest them, but we try and educate them to conserve this forest,” said Abdullah Hamid, an elephant mahout of the CRU and an unofficial park ranger.

Every year 2,000 travellers bump along the three and a half hour journey from Medan to visit Tangkahan. There are several places to stay; although most accommodation is in the form of a bungalow, there are two eco-friendly boats available that use the river’s hydraulic power to provide electricity. There is mobile signal in the village and electricity is available between 18.00 and 23.00.

Three buses that depart daily to Tangkahan from Medan’s Pinang Baris terminal.  Alternatively Trijaya Travel Agency offer tours from Medan. See

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