‘Just skin and bones’: Bali elephants left to starve

An elephant park in Bali left greater than a dozen elephants to starve, and employees with out pay after plummeting ticket gross sales compelled it to shut when COVID-19 unfold around the globe and borders have been closed.

Bali Elephant Camp (BEC) is a safari-style park, a half-hour drive north of Ubud, the Indonesian island’s cultural capital, that supplied a variety of nature-based actions like bike-riding by rice fields, and white-water rafting.

In 2005, BEC joined a wildlife conservation programme run by the Ministry of Forestry that entrusts privately-owned zoos and safari parks in Indonesia with the care of critically endangered Sumatran elephants.

Elephants at BEC have been discovered to be simply ‘skin and bones’ after the coronavirus pandemic compelled the park to shut [Supplied]

A 2007 examine by the World Wildlife Fund discovered there have been as few as 2,400 Sumatran elephants left within the wild, and the quantity now could be thought to have halved because of poaching for ivory, human-elephant battle, and deforestation. Between 1980 and 2005 – the equal of just one and a half elephant generations – 67 p.c of the potential Sumatran elephant’s habitat was misplaced. In the wild, the animal was listed as ‘critically endangered’ in 2012.

The elephants for the parks and zoos are sourced from breeding centres established 30 years in the past in Sumatra in a programme that was supposed to assist stabilise the inhabitants. In trade for giving the animals a home, accredited companies have been permitted to promote elephant-tourism companies that have been wildly worthwhile earlier than the pandemic. BEC was charging $230 for a half-hour elephant journey for 2 individuals.

The start of three child elephants over the previous 15 years suggests BEC was not solely assembly however exceeding its animal welfare necessities.

“Our friends in conservation say we have some of the healthiest, happiest elephants they’ve ever seen!” the corporate’s web site boasts.

But pictures taken by a wildlife veterinarian on the park in May and shared solely with Al Jazeera confirmed a number of severely undernourished elephants.

“You cannot imagine a skinny elephant until you see one,” stated Femke Den Haas, a veterinarian from the Netherlands who has been working to guard wildlife in Indonesia for 20 years.

“They are big animals and you’re not meant to see their bones. But that’s what they were – just skin and bones.”

Government assist

Haas visited the camp as a associate of Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam Bali (BKSDA), the federal government physique that supervises the safari parks and zoos which have adopted Sumatran elephants.

“Many industries in Bali have collapsed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated Agus Budi Santosa, director of BKSDA. “But the impact on small companies like Bali Elephant Camp has been especially severe. [When tourism stopped] they were no longer able to cover operational costs, especially the cost of feeding elephants. The government had to assist them by paying for food and electricity.”

One of the elephants at BEC [Suoplied]

In July, the corporate advised the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) that it was doing its finest to handle the elephants however struggling to fulfill its month-to-month $1,400 working prices and that neither the forestry division nor BKSDA had supplied any monetary assist.

BEC representatives weren’t obtainable to reply Al Jazeera’s questions in regards to the elephants, and its phone numbers have been disconnected.

“You can’t as a company say there are no more visitors so I am not taking care of the elephants anymore,” Haas stated.

“That is what has happened and it is really disgusting because these elephants have given them profits for 15 years. So I don’t believe it when they say they don’t have any money. Elephants are not that expensive to take care of anyway. It costs $200 a month to feed one.”

Haas says BEC additionally left its employees with out pay.

“They have acted irresponsibly not only to the animals but to employees who committed their lives to their jobs. When I first got there, some of the staff had left and others were still there, working for free, trying to take care of the elephants,” she says.

Santosa says BEC was given two months to seek out new buyers and restructure the enterprise, throughout which Haas’s NGO, the Jakarta Animal Aid Network, fed their elephants and paid the keepers’ wages.

When BEC did not give you an answer, the federal government seized the elephants.

“We had to solve the problem quickly because if we delayed it could have resulted in the death of the elephants,” Santosa stated.

Adds Haas: “They didn’t want to let them take the elephants. They wanted to keep them to put them back to work after the pandemic.”

A brand new home

Three of BEC’s 14 elephants have been adopted by an unidentified zoo on the neighbouring island of Java.

The remaining 11 have been relocated to Tasta Wildlife Park, a brand new, trendy zoo that opened in June in Tabanan Regency, a lush mountainous area in south-central Bali. When Al Jazeera visited Tasta Wildlife Park in September, all 11 animals had been efficiently rehabilitated and regained weight.

The chief elephant handler, Ketut, is a former BEC man who labored for the corporate for 13 years – the final 12 months with little to no pay.

He doesn’t bear any in poor health will to his former employer, solely gratitude to his new one. He is aware of the identify and age of each elephant within the herd and loves sharing his data with guests, even when they continue to be uncommon for now.

“Elephants digest very little of the food they eat. So they’re always eating” he stated. “They can eat up to 10 percent of their body weight in a single day.”

The elephants have been seized and transferred to a brand new zoo in Bali, the place they’ve regained their weight and well being [Supplied]

With tickets priced between $2 and $four and solely a handful of tourists per day, Tasta Wildlife Park is working at a loss, nevertheless it continues to make sure all its animals are properly fed.

Three different elephant parks in Bali – Mason, Bali Zoo and the Bali Safari and Marine Park – are additionally struggling financially however feeding their elephants, in keeping with BAWA.

But they’re involved in regards to the welfare of seven elephants at Bakas, a safari-style amusement park in east Bali that expenses $25 for entry and $85 to clean an elephant in a pool.

Bakas has lengthy been dogged by accusations of underfeeding its elephants with complaints from guests on TripAdvisor relationship again a decade.

“Do not go to Bakas Elephant Park. This park is primarily aimed at extracting as much money as possible from tourists, with little regard to the welfare of the animals,” wrote a vacationer on the positioning in 2011. “The elephants were clearly underfed and the one we were on kept trying to stop and eat, which resulted in a sharp bang on the head with the keeper’s stick.”

Haas says Bakas’s house owners are additionally crying poor and demanding authorities help: “It’s quite easy to say we have no money to feed their elephants, so hello government, come and take care of it. But the ones who are responsible are the owners.”

Al Jazeera visited Bakas a number of days after it had reopened following a three-month closure throughout partial lockdowns, and there have been no guests in any respect.

Staff stated they nonetheless feed the elephants, however have no idea whether or not the meals is paid for by the house owners or donations. In the automobile park, they supplied a ‘selfie’ with an elephant for a payment, however refused to point out the areas inside the place the elephants have been being housed. The house owners of the camp didn’t reply to Al Jazeera’s requests for a response to the allegations.

The plight of the underfed elephants amid discuss of extra sustainable tourism in post-pandemic Bali has reignited requires a rethink of elephant tourism on the island.

“There are no known ethical sanctuaries in Bali,” Bali Elephant Paradise Hell, an advocacy group created earlier than the pandemic by vacationers who didn’t like what they noticed on the islands’ elephant camps, wrote on their web site earlier than the pandemic.

“The elephants are often kept chained for prolonged periods of time when not performing hideous shows or used for rides, living in fear of being stabbed with bullhooks and denied what is natural and important to them.”

A keeper leads his elephant. The Sumatran elephant was listed as critically endangered in 2012 [Supplied]

The BAWA voices comparable sentiments. The group referred Al Jazeera to feedback it made even earlier than the pandemic.

“Tourist elephants are often overworked and forced to work in the heat of the day with inadequate food, water or rest. They may not show overt signs of distress, and may be obediently plodding along, but constant, forced proximity to humans without choice of retreat is extremely stressful for elephants,” BAWA stated. “They are deprived of the opportunity to perform natural behaviours, as they are either confined, tethered or under the bullhook. This creates anxiety and frustration.”

Haas says all of those issues have been created by demand from vacationers for elephant rides: “That one ride, that one selfie, it means a life sentence for these animals and now that Covid has hit it’s even worse because no more money is coming in and some elephants are starving.”

“I am not saying these businesses should close,” the veterinarian stated. “But I’m hoping that after the pandemic, vacationers can have a wake-up name and never journey elephants or play with them in swimming swimming pools anymore.

“It’s 2021 and we should have ethical tourism where people who visit Bali on holidays should say, yes, we want to see elephants, but in a sanctuary where they can graze and are not tied up in chains waiting for people to ride them. You don’t have to come close to wildlife, you don’t need to touch them or get a selfie, just admire them from a distance.”

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