The good, the bad and the elephants…..
When you are from the western world (U.K.) a huge animal lover and you come to an elephant park in Bali and see these animals tethered and offering elephant rides you are bound to feel a little concerned, BUT I would implore you to understand where these animals have come from, the life they had in Sumatra verses the life that they are living now.
I did a fair bit of research before deciding to stay here, I read both good and bad reports but the one thing which really swayed me was the endorsement by the late, great Steve Irwin describing this as the greatest elephant park in the world.
Having traveled all over the world with young children and spent the last 12 months circumnavigating the globe with a 7yr old who LOVES animals, I believe I have seen some of the best and the worst in animal tourism and hence I came to the Mason Elephant Lodge with a completely open mind.
Mason elephant lodge was founded by U.K. born Nigel Mason in 1997 after discovering 9 elephants in Bali living in very poor conditions in little more than a derelict paddie field. The Elephants had been previously rescued from Sumatra but Nigel knew instantly he could give them a better quality of life and having taken out a loan of $500,000 dollars the Mason Elephant Park was founded. A while later Nigel rescued a further 8 elephants from Sumatra and in 2004 the final 10 – after a long and painful bureaucratic battle with the Sumatran government to get permits signed to allow Nigel to take to elephants out of Sumatra. The full rescue story of the last 10 elephants was recorded via a documentary entitled ‘operation jumbo’ which can be viewed in all of the hotel rooms at the lodge or purchased as a DVD in their shop, however you can also watch the trailer to this here: Operation Jumbo (Trailer)
Nigel Mason freely admits that in a perfect world that these elephants would be roaming free in the jungle, the problem is that their natural habitat has now been destroyed as ongoing deforestation takes away their homeland in favour of logging and palm oil. As a result in Sumatra the elephants wander further in search of food, destroying local plantations and are now seen as a ‘pest’, with many of them being hunted & poisoned.
In an attempt to protect the elephant the Sumatran government put them in what they called ‘training camps’ but Nigel Mason describes more as concentration camps for elephants. The elephants are heavily chained all day, every day, have no exercise and are generally malnourished.
In 2002 Nigel made the decision to choose 10 elephants to rescue from the camp to bring back to Bali, but the 2 year bureaucratic delay meant that by the time he returned to Sumatra 5 out of those 10 had already died in the camp (in total 27 elephants had died in the camp over that same period).
Mason Elephant Lodge is now home to 31 healthy elephants, 27 rescued from Sumatra and 4 born at the park as part of their active breeding programme in an attempt to help the survival of the ever endangered Sumatran Elephant.
‘ARJUN’ the youngest ‘baby’ born at the park on 25/06/2019
Each elephant eats around $18,000 dollars worth of food each year! That’s without taking into consideration all the vet bills and 170 staff employed at the park.
Nigel knew that in order to fund what is required to look after these animals then there would need to be ‘compromise’ and that he would need to be able to turn this into a sustainable business in order for it to survive.
All of the elephants in this park have received some form of training, but Nigel’s policy from day one is that all elephants would be trained with rewards and NO BRUTALITY. This not only meant a completely new way to train the elephants but also having to completely re-train their mahouts (elephant trainers) as well, as many of them had initially trained in Thailand where elephant cruelty in training is well documented.
I had read in reviews of the Mahouts using bullhooks to steer the animals here, I looked VERY carefully on numerous occasions and never once saw them being used, neither did I see a single mark on any elephant to indicate such, and again I looked very closely!
Elephant have special seats which do not hurt their backs and you will not see a single mark on any elephant here. The body % of the seat and 2 riders is indeed much less than that of a horse carrying a saddle and rider. Elephants and man have worked together for over 4000 years and certainly from what I have seen here is that the elephants love the human interaction and have wonderful & trusting relationships with their mahoots.
In the wild elephants would walk many many miles each day, so by taking it in turns to offer rides to guests they get to walk, exercise and maintain vital muscle mass, with no more than the equivalent of us carrying a backpack on our backs
You just have to look around the park to see the massive investment which has been made to make this the very best experience possible for both the elephants and guests alike. Transforming it from the disused paddie fields 22 years ago to a lush tropical landscape which is almost impossible to believe is completely man made. If you are in any doubt about any aspect of the park or the treatment of the elephants then there are information sheets situated in many locations.
I am not going to pretend this is the perfect life here for the elephants, but it is a million miles better than the existence which they had back in Sumatra, indeed the lifespan in the training camps there is between 2-7 years so it is unlikely that any one of these beautiful elephants would even be alive now if they had stayed there.
Sadly it is thought that there are still another 300 elephants in the Sumatran Camps and more tragically this species becomes further endangered each and every year and deforestation leads to every deceasing numbers.
The elephants here are healthy, exceptionally well cared for and being given the best life possible, even if it’s not a perfect one.
We LOVED our stay here, the hotel was beautiful, the staff exceptionally friendly and it was an incredible experience for both Cameron and myself to be up so close and personal with the elephants. I know for sure that Cameron will never ever forget his stay here and neither will I. It’s not exactly cheap to stay here, however it’s important to remember that you are not just paying for a hotel stay, but for the upkeep of the park, the survival of the elephants and also towards the Sumatran Elephant Foundation which Nigel Mason and his wife continue to support.
My biggest complaint with this place lays not in there care of the elephants – but in this: SINGLE USE PLASTICS! There really is no need in this day and age and yet my son was given a plastic straw with his sprite at dinner (as well as a glass!) and in each room there was a tiny single use plastic tube of shampoo and conditioner, as well as the butters/jams etc used at breakfast. NOT what I would have expected in 2019 from an eco hotel.