here we are with the flying squad elephants of Tesso Nilo national park in Sumatra. these trained elephants are indonesia's way of trying to control the roving wild elephants who raid crops and kill people. the elephants and their mahouts patrol and get called in when there's a conflict with local communities. it's also potentially an eco-tourism thing but they haven't gotten that far yet. but i'm not sure they're ready for that - these elephants don't exactly listen that well. when they really want to eat a branch, they do. if they want to roll around at a river crossing and spray water with their trunks, it's their call. and i think they forget that my little feet are dangling off their sides when they rub up against a prickly tree. but they do pick flowers if you ask them nicely (like this variety of ginger) or clear a giant fallen tree from the trail. (i imagine having an elephant in long island, clearing branches after a hurricane, it would be perfect).
and there are the two babies, Tesso and Nila who have the personality of puppies. imagine a baby elephant wanting to jump on you and lick your face. cute, and terrifiying. the babies manage to rile up the adults once too, they'll get tangled in the legs of their mama who then gets all pissy and screams. that's quite a hairy little situation.
but it's still amazing. this huge beast lies down so you can crawl up onto him, and you kinda amble along, feel this huge warm animal below you. sometimes i would pat him and it would erupt with this enormous grumble. and the ears flap against my feet, making a sortof wet leather sound.
i wonder how someone decides to become a mahout. i would totally do it.
from on top of the elephant you can see over the flat landscape, beyond the forest, we are on an insland in a sea of oil palm plantations encroaching from all sides. fires in the distance, the ones that in the month of february and march obscure the sun. trucks lugging harvested acacia trees for the pulp and paper industry. when you look at a map you figure it's probably too late, there's nothing left. but then karmila, the 25 year old tiger expert tells me she catches tons of pictures of tigers in camera traps. so i stop being depressed for a moment and see little Nila rushing off into a miniature forest of ferns and grabbing all sorts of stuff with her trunk and i forget everything, especially that my ass is totally killing me.