Elephants of Kuala Gandah

Located near Lanchang, Pahang, is Malaysia’s National Elephant Conservation Centre. It is relatively easy to get to by car and is a pleasant 2 hour journey from Kuala Lumpur with great mountain and forest views along the way. I made that journey twice this week to attend a meeting at the National Institute of Biological Diversity or IKB which is nearby.

IKB is relatively new and has little to interest visitors but just 15 minutes away in the National Elephant Conservation Centre which is at a place called Kuala Gandah because it is the point where the Gandah River meets another river. This site was established in 1989 and is now the base for the highly successful elephant relocation program which was started in 1974.

The Centre takes in orphaned young elephants, take care of them and prepare them for release into the wild. The Centre is home to several specially trained older elephants which are used in the relocation program. These special elephants and their trainers were both trained in either India, Burma or both.

They play a very important role in elephant relocation. As the country has opened out its land for housing and cultivation of rubber and oil palm, the rainforest became fragmented and there exists pockets or islands of forests which are no longer contiguous with the main forest and wilderness areas. As development and encroachment continues to chisel away at the size of these forest islands, animals are no longer able to find sufficient food and they invade houses, farms and plantations. This was happening to the elephants. The solution was to catch them and transfer them to protected forests and therefore reduce human-animal confict.

When a problem elephant is spotted, it is tranquilized and nowadays often fitted with a radio-tracking collar. Two specially trained elephants are brought in on either side of the elephant so that it is re-assuringly hemmed in and kept calm by the other two elephants as it recovers from the tranquilizer. In this way, the problem elephant can be relatively controlled and can be transported relatively easily. Some 450 elephants have been translocated by this means. However, as the forests continue to shrink, the remaining wild havens are probably beginning to over-crowd and another solution to the elephant problem should be thought of.

If you visit Kuala Gandah in the afternoon, you can get right up and personal with some of the smaller and friendlier elephants. Watch them feed, touch them and pose for photos with them. You can even ride on their backs. After spending the afternoon obliging tourists and visitors and the elephants trundle down to the river and they hope that visitors will return the favor and pamper them as they bathe. The trainers will tell you what to do. “You, wash behind the ears.” “You can scrub his toenails.”

A great activity for the whole family in nice surroundings. Nearby there is an Orang Asli (aboriginal people) village with some houses still built from tree bark which is their traditional building material. Come, see, learn, enjoy and leave smelling like elephants.


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