Bathing with the Elephants (Elephant Conservation Response Unit), Tangkahan, North Sumatera

Elephant are such majestic creatures..  They travel in herds and they have their unique way to interact with each other.


Sadly, due to human’s greed, deforestation and illegal poaching activities for ivory are driving this majestic creatures into extinction…

Located on the edge of the spectacular Gunung Leuser National Park, Tangkahan is a unique and serene ecotourism destination…


We began our trip from the Eco Village Bukit Lawang and it was a two and a half hours journey from Bukit Lawang on a truly bumpy road through Palm oil plantations and rural villages via 4 x 4s….


It is here the Conservation Response Unit (CRU) of Sumatera is located – a team of Sumatran elephants and their mahouts that helps safeguard the national park to protect it…. Yeah, you heard it, these rescued elephants are also responsible workers trained to help patrol and guard the forest with the rangers..

This is their main role here, in the hope of  protecting their wild brethren from poachers and illegal loggers…


The CRU does not promote elephant activities tourism but instead attempt to educate people about how these gentle pachyderms and humans can co-exist together in harmony… And I truly support this, being an animal lover but also one who take all things into consideration, sadly wildlife in the wild are not safe anymore because of humans greed…


Although elephant activity is under worldwide criticism, this ecotourism project in Tangkahan is unique for Indonesia as it is there to truly help both the villagers in Tangkahan as well as the elephants, considering that the presence of the CRU actually turned the village around from being illegal loggers to being protectors….


A hefty fee is imposed on those who want interact with these majestic creatures, and well though some people tend to protest about this, it is needed to help contribute for the food and medical for the elephants as the CRU is an independent NGO and funding is not easy to get..

Many people are not aware that these elephants were rescued from the conflict area in Aceh, which is a Military Operation Area (DOM). A couple of elephants were saved from a shootout which often happened in the middle of the forest and brought here… Some other Elephants were brought here rescued from captivity, probably less desirable situations…

Anyway, these elephants are in a way saved from the threat of extinction, as sadly, the Sumatran elephant population is just barely about 1,500 in the wild now..

So, in my opinion, it is a great effort by the Tangkahan villagers to protect and treat the elephants as well as possible and give visitors a chance to have a meaningful encounter.. The mahouts are there to advice and overview the activities…


From my personal observations, there was only a positive relationship between the mahouts and elephants… Personally I have seen more sadder and wounded looking elephants in other conservation centres in other countries…


And I think it is good that they are protected from being hunted for their ivory by evil and heartless poachers.. It is always so heartbreaking when I read the news of some elephant being found dead minus their tusks in the forests and there has been too many cases lately…

Guests here can wash the elephants during their morning or afternoon bathing sessions by the river as well as get showered on by these animals…


These elephants truly seemed to love being in the river and getting washed all over while getting fed a combination of sugarcane, bananas and pumpkins and it was truly a priceless moment getting involved in washing them and getting to interact with them…

Did you know that the elephant skin is just so rough like sandpaper and they have a few hair all over them…

We had a whale of a time pampering Olive, feeding her and then washing her with the brush, and I thought I saw a mischievous sparkle in those eyes..

I was even more stunned to know Olive was a mama elephant with two babies and one of her calves was the playful and mischievous Europe, born in captivity of course…


Once the session was over, we had some photographs before the elephants headed back across the river to their home, and we too headed back to where our lodging for the night was…

Website –

Address – Green Lodge areaTangkahan 20133, Sumatera

Heartfelt thanks to KBRI Kuala LumpurTourism Indonesia for this kind opportunity

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