Staff members Susan Mikota DVM and Hank
Hammatt went to Sumatra in 2000 after receiving reports of elephant
healthcare needs. They examined 41 elephants, and donated supplies.
Realizing the ongoing needs, they resigned their United States positions,
and with funds from a Guggenheim Foundation grant, private donations, and
the sale of their house, moved to Indonesia in 2001. The goal was to
improve elephant healthcare, train Indonesian veterinarians, and raise
international support. In 2003 they were compelled to leave Indonesia
after reporting to government officials a high rate of deaths of elephants
under government care (85 percent dead within 3 years). Elephant Care
International continues to support Indonesian veterinarians and efforts to
help Sumatran elephants.
Wildlife Fund facilitated our first trip to Sumatra in April of 2000. We
donated veterinary supplies, examined, and treated 41 elephants. Susan
returned in August 2000 with the International Elephant Foundation team to
provide additional veterinary care and training. The tremendous on-going
needs prompted us to make a life-changing decision. We resigned our
positions, sold our house and most of our possessions to fund the early
phase of our project, and moved to Sumatra. A generous private donor, a
Guggenheim Fellowship and contributions from zoos and individuals have
supported our on-going efforts.
In August 2001 we witnessed 11 newly captured elephants with severe and
largely preventable injuries. Working under difficult field conditions and
with limited supplies,* we administered care. At the same time we
organized a meeting of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working for
elephant conservation in Indonesia to address 1) the long-term
conservation impact of removing elephants from the wild and 2) the humane
need to improve capture techniques. With the endorsement of WWF-Indonesia,
the Wildlife Conservation Society, Fauna and Flora International, and the
International Elephant Foundation, we requested a Moratorium against
elephant captures from the Ministry of Forestry during which our NGO group
would address the immediate need to improve capture techniques and the
long-term need to develop alternatives to capture. The Moratorium was
approved as was our request to establish a position for a Senior
Veterinary Officer for Sumatra’s elephants that we would fund.
Circumstances necessitated our departure from Sumatra in October 2001 but
we maintained contact with colleagues. We moved back to September 2002,
not long after a report that 35 elephants were captured in the area where
we had worked. Fourteen were dead.
We resumed our work with the captive elephants and began planning the
Immobilization and Translocation Workshop to re-train and re-equip
Sumatra’s capture teams. WCS staff was working on alternative conflict
mitigation techniques. At the same time we began to compile information
that eventually revealed the deaths of 74 elephants in Riau Province,
during a 30-month period and a mortality rate of 85% among newly captured
elephants. We had previously observed that ivory was removed from every
elephant that died. On the advice of our WWF-Indonesia sponsor, we
presented this information to officials within the Ministry of Forestry.
Shortly thereafter we were harassed by immigration officials. Our
WWF-Indonesia sponsor feared for our safety and advised us to leave the
Subsequent to our unplanned “exile” from Indonesia, we prepared a more
detailed report with supporting documentation that our WWF-Indonesia
sponsor then presented to even higher officials in the Ministry of
Forestry. The facts continue to be denied.
We have shared our report with other pro-active Indonesian and
international NGOs concerned with nature and wildlife. We have given many
presentations and lobbied many groups to help resolve this situation but
none are willing. We know that captures, deaths, and needless suffering
are on-going. We continue to support colleagues within Indonesia who share
our vision for change. A new national president was recently elected and
has promised to lead the fight against corruption. We will do our part to
help. (Much more information here)
* our shipment containing $25,000 of veterinary equipment and supplies and
all of our personal belongings were detained by customs for 8 months.