My Response to Bali’s Elephant Situation
by Nigel Mason, Mason Elephant Park Founder
Many of us have now read the Al Jazeera article that has been circulating in regards to Bali’s covid elephant situation, and I felt that it needed to be answered from our side due to its sensationalist journalism with numerous mistakes and lack of proper research when it mentioned our park. I am not saying that this article did not reflect what some of the other elephant owners are doing in Bali, but just that my family’s park, the Mason Elephant Park does not have starving or mistreated elephants, as they have all been fed and continue to be looked after to the best of our family’s ability with a healthy diet and proper veterinary care since the start of the covid outbreak.
It appears to have been an article that was written without proper knowledge of the whole situation, and consequentially is not designed to help the elephants, but rather to destroy people’s reputation with innuendo and misinformation rather than something constructive to help the problem. Let me state quite categorically that the Mason Elephant Park does not have starving or unhealthy elephants at this time.
Our family has have been involved in saving elephants since the first time we saw 9 elephants standing in the dust of an old, abandoned rice paddy in central Bali, dying from lack of care and starvation, more than 25 years ago. Rather than abusing the owner to satisfy my anger at the situation, I instead decided to buy the elephants out of my own money and create a park where they could live out a happy and healthy life and to hopefully breed more to add to this tiny herd of refugees from the island of Sumatra.
Directly afterward my wife Yanie and I went to Sumatra to see the situation for ourselves. We were shocked at what we found, and I remember looking and thinking, how the hell did it get to such a bad state like this, where was the government help and why hadn’t WWF, Greenpeace, PETA, or one of the many other animal activists come to correct this elephant disaster, let alone even addressing it and bringing this horrendous situation to light.
This Al Jazeera article is not a new story to me, as over the years news of animal mistreatment in Bali has come to the surface on numerous occasions and our park is usually the easier target to pick out due to being more high profile and having western management. These ‘animal activists are quick to point the finger but actually do very little to raise funds or get involved and provide real help into these problem areas. They all seem to have their pet projects such as whales, orangutans, or some other fluffy creature, and the multitude of other endangered creatures, which aren’t as ‘cute’ or high profile are usually thrown by the wayside and ignored.
By no means am I knocking what they do, only that they are very selective and are often nowhere to be seen when things are really bad. For instance, I have not seen or heard from even one person from any of these organisations since the start of the pandemic, not one, because the truth is that these groups are mostly made up of over-emotional people, who may mean well, but unfortunately much of the time don’t see the entire reality of a situation and prefer to attack anyone who doesn’t follow in their belief the exact same way they perceive it. We all think that we know all the solutions, but we don’t, because the situation is never truly as simple as black and white, and I have had to study the elephants and their characteristics and idiosyncrasies for 25 years and I still don’t know all the answers, especially not in a Pandemic situation like this.
But it is important to look at all sides of the story before making assumptions with unresearched ideas and conclusions, anyone can do that, and it helps little to improve the elephants’ lives. The Sumatran elephant is the only critically endangered elephant in the world. It only lives on one island and its numbers have dropped to the point where they are one step away from extinction with maybe just 800 left in what’s left of the forests of Sumatra. Logging, slash and burn, and huge oil palm plantations have devastated the island, leaving only a patchwork of small forests that is unsustainable for not just the elephants, but also the orangutans, the Sumatran tiger, gibbons, and the Sumatran rhino, just to mention a few.
I don’t see masses of people pouring into Sumatra to voice their concerns there, they would rather take the effortless way and sit behind a desk in the comfort of their own home or office, and hurl abusive messages at the people who have tried to do something, while actually contributing nothing but empty words and criticism to a problem they don’t completely understand. Constructive criticism and proper discussions are what should happen, not abusive emails and articles that many times are not entirely accurate, badly researched, and can potentially do more harm than good.
So let me point out some of the many myths and beliefs that have been spread over the years by activists and counter them with research that has been done by people who work with elephants and are not influenced by emotion or imagination. Firstly, about the Mason Elephant Park and a brief history of it. The park has rescued 24 elephants from the government-run elephant ‘concentration’ camps in two separate locations in Southern and Central Sumatra, where very sadly the typical life expectancy in these camps was between 3 – 7 years only. Since then, over the past 25 years, we have bred 6 babies naturally here as well. The park has a limited area and hence has had to develop a unique system to keep the elephants happy and healthy with some small compromises, all approved by international animal welfare specialists.
The Mason Elephant Park is part of only of a small handful of elephant parks in Asia, and the only one in Bali, that have been inspected and received gold certification from the Asian Captive Elephants Standards (ACES) organisation, which have researched and developed a wide array of realistic and scientifically backed systems to sustain, improve, and care for elephants in parks around Asia. There are no practices in our park that go against their strict rules and procedures, and a large sum of our own family’s funds was spent to meet the advanced criteria for gold certification. No other park in Indonesia has been certified by ACES, not even with a bronze standard. To find out more, please visit their website at elephantstandards.com.
If anyone has any questions in regards to our park and its practices, please visit YouTube and watch our video “All About the Mason Elephant Park in Bali” for answers to our most asked questions over the years with responses from other outside experts of our field. For instance, why is it ok to ride an elephant if done ethically and how does that impact their health, why do captive elephants require tethering from time to time, and how is a wild elephant trained using no brutality or abusive methods, as is suggested by a number of animal activists.
Our park is an open book, we have no ‘secret torture areas’ or anything to hide, to the extent where visitors can choose to stay at the lodge and see how the park is 24 hours a day. Anyone can visit the park and see for themselves what it’s about. It has a comprehensive Sumatran elephant education area with photographic and informative displays throughout the park, an elephant museum, an elephant gallery, a theatre, and provides an experience where visitors can get up close and personal with the beautiful elephants, all the while any of our staff are always more than happy to answer any questions whatsoever.
With all that said, I just wanted to ask for people to please not jump to conclusions about our family’s park, just because Al Jazeera publishes a horrific story about the other elephant parks in Bali which have never had any affiliation with us whatsoever. Of course, I’m not saying it’s not true of what has sadly been happening at these parks here while the island remains absent of its visitors due to the pandemic, all I’m saying is it’s not true at our park in Taro.
Our elephants are not starving… yet. As we have poured all our family’s own savings and funds into the park since just before this pandemic hit the world, and since then we have taken out further bank loans to make sure that up until now the elephants have been cared for to the best of our ability. The vet attends each week, and our elephants throughout this entire pandemic have been well-fed and cared for, with no ribs showing or other signs of ill health. We ask anyone to come and see for themselves, don’t just take my word for it, or the word of Al Jazeera.
However, we are now down to the last of our own funds from our family after nearly 2 years of shutdown in Bali. As much as we didn’t want to resort to this, we are now about to launch a GoFundMe campaign that we hope people will donate towards if they want to help the elephants until this pandemic is over and visitors finally return to our island home. 100% of these donations will directly be going towards continuing to feed and look after our herd of 30 critically endangered Sumatran elephants through a nonprofit foundation that we will be launching soon at savebalielephants.org
Thank you for taking the time to listen to our side of the story, and I hope everyone stays strong during these incredibly difficult times.
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