I’m being a bit more prolific that I originally envisioned with updates but as we are on the move tomorrow (Wednesday) to stay in another part of KL with friends for the next 2 days before heading to Borneo, along with a projected late night tomorrow it’s possibly best to update whilst the opportunity presents.
Today we left our accommodation around 9am riding the monorail to an outer suburb called Titiwangsa where we were picked up by our “boss” for the day Mr Zali. He was instrumental is helping set up an Elephant sanctuary over 30 years ago and we as a family volunteered to help at the sanctuary for a day as a tour with a difference. The sanctuary is located in the state of Pahang which was approx an hours drive (100km) from the central city.
The offical name is the Kuala Gandah National Elephant Conservation Centre and was established in 1989 by the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks, and forms a base for the Elephant Relocation Team, which since 1974 has been rescuing problem Asian elephants whose habitats are being lost to cultivation or development. The Centre also aims to raise public awareness and support research, and has increasingly become a popular tourist attraction since its existence began to be publicised in 1997 with over 200 thousand visitors last year. Visitors to the Centre are shown a video, then watch the elephants being washed and fed however as a volunteer we were able to do this and much much more.
Upon arrival we met some of the day to day park staff and were given the task of cutting up papaya for their lunch. After being shown some basic ELE signals we then fed them by placing the papaya directly into their mouths. They would signal with their trunks when they were ready for the next portion. Once the bucket for each respective elephant was empty you had to tun it upside down so they knew there was no more food available. Directly in the park there are 8 Elephants with an additional 14 located in separate paddocks close by.
Next was feeding them coconut cookies and again once a packet was finished you had to scrunch it up in front of them to show the food supply was no more.
Many of the Elephants in the sanctuary were rescued from the wild where they may have been injured, trapped by poachers, fallen down a hole and in one case survived being attacked by a Tiger (The new Tiger sanctuary for Malaysia was being built just down the road – The fence height is impressive.) In some cases they are released back into the jungle but most of them adapt to their new life and find comfort in being well looked after.
The staff use Malay commands which are listened to and there are very apparent connections and interactions between the animals and their keepers. They show an amazing sense of intellect and knowing. By feeding them it got them used to our smell for the tasks that came later.The youngest Ele was around 18 months old weighing in around 450kg (they are weighed monthly) with the oldest on site being over 70 and the heaviest been over 4 tonne.
Whilst the other visitors were getting ready to watch them bathe and be fed we had the task of mucking out their paddocks. That’s right shovelling Ele poo! These things were the size of cannonballs and all of us were assigned shovels and were expected to clean it up. Amazingly the kids didn’t even baulk at being asked (it possibly helped that Mr Zali was ex Malaysian military……and had a few stories to tell about his Malayan emergency days and more recent adventures.)
The elephants that were not required for the bathing part of the visitors show (in the river running through the area) we then washed down, shovelled out more poo and fed them dinner with bundles of a cane like grass. Once the Elephants that had been involved with the show returned we did the same for them. By this time we were fully working in their enclosures (with a keeper) and moving around the animals.
BB & KK had no qualms about being up close with them. One of the last jobs of the day was to make up the milk for the youngest Ele which BB did assisted by local trainee vets. The branded milk powder they use is made in NZ by none other than Fonterra. (I bet they’re not aware that this infant formula is being fed to infant Ele’s.) BB & KK then had turns feeding the baby Ele 10 litres with a large babies bottle.
By this time it was 5pm and the park was closing. We had been there since 11am and had had an amazing opportunity to be close to and get an understanding of these animals and the work being done here to protect them. On the way back to KL we stopped at a roadside stall and had dinner of fried banana,sweet potato and lashings of iced tea. Arriving back in KL around 8pm we were all pretty shattered but elated about what had been a pretty unique day. (some photos to follow once Noelle gets them sorted)