False: No abuse of elephants in Indonesia?
eTN was contacted by Mr. Biswajit Guha, Group Head of Life Sciences at Taman Safari Indonesia, in response to our article, “World Association of Zoos and Aquariums investigating Indonesia zoo for abuse claims.”
Here, we publish Taman Safari Indonesia’s response:
I am writing from Taman Safari Indonesia regarding the article that was published in eTurbonews on 23 October 2018. We are shocked and disappointed that such a false and inaccurate report was published by eTurbonews regarding the elephants that are being cared for at Taman Safari Indonesia. A similar report was released by the Daily Mail and having written in to express our disappointment, the Daily Mail has included Taman Safari Indonesia’s response as an update to the article. I trust that eTurbonews will do likewise and correct the wrong and biased misrepresentation of our conservation institution.
From the article, I understand that Born Free submitted a report alleging that the elephants were abused to make them ‘perform’ in shows. I wish to set the record straight regarding Taman Safari Indonesia and our care for the animals at our conservation institution. This report is extremely damaging to Taman Safari Indonesia’s reputation and I would like this addressed and rectified immediately.
The allegations that keepers abuse the elephants and stab them with sharp objects to get them to perform for tourists is baseless and false. Taman Safari Indonesia does not condone practices that harm or hurt animals as part of our presentations and interactions. The pictures that were taken and submitted to the media by Born Free have been used out of context, to convey a negative image to readers, and these must be clarified immediately.
Taman Safari Indonesia manages the critically endangered Sumatran elephants in a free-contact manner and we are one of the few institutions, if not the only zoological institution, with an extremely successful Sumatran elephant breeding program, with 40 babies born to date. We have been involved in Sumatran elephant conservation since the 1980’s when we were asked to assist with human-elephant conflict in Sumatra by the Ministry of Forestry. This entailed the use of trained elephants to assist in rescuing elephants that were at risk of serious injuries or death due to human-elephant conflict and rehoming them at elephant conservation centers and other zoological institutions.
Our elephant presentation deals with the very real conservation issue of human-elephant conflict in Sumatra, whereby communities from different islands have been transmigrated to Sumatra and have taken over the elephant’s natural wild habitat for their homes and farming. The impact of human settlement has brought the elephant populations in Sumatra into direct conflict with humans, with elephants being the victims, very often leading to serious injuries and even deaths. This presentation educates as well as creates empathy for the elephants involved in such conflict.
Hurting or abusing he elephants is counterproductive to what Taman Safari Indonesia sets out to achieve – providing the best care for all our animals, educating visitors on animals’ biology, ecology and conservation, as well as creating empathy for animals in the wild that are still facing numerous challenges daily.
The elephants at TSI have the opportunity to interact and socialize with one another and when this happens there will be times when there are disagreements or rough interactions between individual elephants. This sometimes results in superficial wounds that are cleaned and treated by our team of dedicated keepers and vets. The elephants can also move around their area to explore, investigate, scratch themselves and interact with their keepers.
The photos of the keeper interacting with the elephant are such an example. You can clearly see that the keeper is rubbing the elephant’s trunk and he then leans forward against the elephant, as the keepers sometimes do, to guide the elephant to another position. Because the elephants are managed free contact, the keepers use either verbal cues or direct handling to guide or position them.
Over the years TSI has worked with various experts on animal conditioning and training using positive reinforcement. Our most recent training was conducted in May 2018, with an expert from the USA. Many elephant behaviors are conducted using this positive reinforcement training and conditioning method, and we continue to expand on the range of behaviors that are trained in this way.
The allegation that there are cuts or wounds on the elephants’ trunks inflicted by keepers is baseless, and this would instead create veterinary or behavioral problems that are counter to what we hope to achieve in managing the animals in our parks.
Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, with over 250 million people. At Taman Safari Indonesia, we continually try to create emotional bonds with guests through the animals at our parks that serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts. Only through creating this emotional connection, can we create an awareness and concern for nature and wildlife.