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Dez Bartelt of Best of Both Adventures for Women Visits The Elephant Safari Park Lodge, Taro, Bali
by Dez Bartelt

It was Aristotle who said that elephants are, “the beasts which passed all others in wit and mind”, and if you get the opportunity to get up close to one of these magnificent creatures you will undoubtedly agree.

What was my favorite day in Bali? Getting to hang out with rescued Sumatra elephants at the Elephant Safari Park in Taro, Bali. As I travel past traditional villages, vibrant green rice fields, and astounding country sides with palms trees and exotic tropical plants I think to myself that this must be the perfect environment for all island creatures.

This will be my first up-close encounter with elephants. I, like most people, have seen them in zoos but I always felt bad for them when in that environment. I know the zoo gives them a good life but to be in such a surrounding seems inequitable, making the experience somewhat unnerving if not a little depressing.

To my surprise, this is not the case for these elephants. Nigel Mason and his wife Yanie have created a five star resort for them. It’s like an elephant four seasons hotel and it is nothing but the best. The elephants that live here are very lucky indeed and were originally from the island of Sumatra. The tale starts after developers took land in Sumatra to build palm oil plantations and they felt elephants where a nuisance to their crops and often chained them up or constantly pushed them to the side. This is another example of man’s destruction of our wildlife in which we force the animals out of their own habitat. For some of these amazing creatures it ends in a very sad tale.

Fortunately many of these animals were rescued and brought here to Bali. The elephant safari park offered salvation to 29 of these majestic animals. They even went so far as to name the rescue; Operation Jumbo; a call to save an endangered species. An amazing documentary that tells the story of the challenges that the elephants faced during an emotional 3000 kilometer journey across three Indonesian islands. With Nigel’s spirit and hands on determination, he has given them the habitat these elephants deserve.

I am met by the safari park owner Nigel. A 65 year old that looks like a Hollywood version of Crocodile Dundee. I guess owning and running a safari park keeps him in top shape as he looks closer to 50. Before we head off to view the elephants Nigel would like me to try the lunch they offer at the park. I’m always hungry for food so I readily agree to his offer and say lead on. Well, let’s just say it’s not just the elephants that receive first class amenities. The outdoor restaurant was amazing in itself with a sensational buffet made up of traditional Balinese cuisine. However the best part was the breathtaking view of the elephants not more than 10 feet from my table. Brilliant planning on Nigel’s part!

As much as I would love to relax and enjoy this meal, I am more eager to interact with the wildlife I am viewing. I don’t want to use the word shoveling the food in my mouth but let’s be honest that’s what it is. I mean I could almost reach out and touch these amazing creatures and it is time to get to it.

As I politely give hints to Nigel that I am ready. He asks if I am keen on desert. Errrrrrrrrrrrrrr, how not to be rude- no thank you I say- watching my figure you see. That was the trick. Well then he says shall we? Without launching myself over him, I act like the proper lady I am and just jump to me feet rather then run him over.

He says first stop I think should be for you to meet our two new additions to our park; Jegeg and Ganteng which in Indonesian means handsome. I would say he is more adorable then handsome. Not only meeting but playing with these two amazing little elephants is quite a highlight for me. It’s hard to even express what it is like to be next to these to love bugs. The keeper beckons me to come over and urges me to pat the elephants by their ears. Boy is their skin ever wrinkled and leathery to the touch! (Hmm, body lotion anyone?) Soon Ganteng uncurled his trunk and waved it in front of my face. The keeper explains he is sniffing your breath. It’s his way of trying to figure out, ‘Do I know you? That made me smile. Being sniffed by an elephant had to be one of the coolest experiences of the day. With much regret, I have to say my goodbyes to the babies and get more up close and personal with the grownups with a ride through the park on an elephant.

Would it be wrong to say giddy up? Elephants have been associated with man since immemorial times. In the past, elephants played a crucial role in the making and breaking of the history. Elephants were used by the Kings as a means of transportation and also to fight their battles. I feel more like a queen looking to explore then a king going to battle. I’m asked to sit in the howdah, a large seat on top of the elephant. Sometimes this seat can be adorned with umbrellas and swathed in brilliant flowers and silk cushions. My howdah is a little more simple but suprisly still quite confutuble.The elephant moves slowly and steadily in and around the park, making for better viewing of this exciting paradise. I am quite amazed on how well the elephant responds to my guide’s soft voice. He sits in front of me on the neck and with just a slight touch of his foot beside the ear, the elephant turns in that direction. Heck, I have to struggle and sometimes scream at my car just to do this. As we mossy along and I mean mossy, this majestic creature is going nowhere in a hurry, but what a great way to see the park!

After about 35 minutes, we head to the lake in the main park area. Hum, my first thought is that if this big guy going to roll around in the water with me on him? My elephant driver assures me no elephant diving today; just a nice little swim to cool off and to give the big guy a reward for his hard work. I think the reward was more mine then his. To not only ride but now to sit atop as he wades in the water and playfully sprays the passer byes with a trunk full of water was like being kind of like the first time you road the horse ride in front of KMART and yahooed!

It truly was amazing to get up close and personal with these incredible animals in this beautiful tropical setting. Along with the ride and great views of the Elephants immersing themselves in the park lake, they show off many of their other talents including painting, yes they can paint too, and you can even buy the t shirt they paint on. I hand fed them, touched them, took photos with them and of them and I even learned more about the elephants ancestry and diversity at the Parkapostrophes historical and graphic displays. They even have first class villas where you can stay right at the park and observe the elephants in serenity after everyone has left; having them to yourself. The deck outside your door is conveniently built at the height of their backs so you can step right off your deck onto an elephant and enjoy a nice ride to breakfast. If that’s not enough, they have an award winning spa to relax you. This truly was the best day in Bali. If you go to the island, this is a must do for I put my personal stamp on the park as one of the top 10 things to do on vacation. For you who are curious about elephants, here are a few facts:

ELEPHANT FACTS

Did you know?

  • A newborn elephant weighs between 75-115kilos and is only 100cm tall at the shoulder.
  • When grown it can weigh from 3000-5000 kilos and end up to 2.5mtrs tall at the shoulder - which may explain why an elephant cannot jump.
  • However an elephant can run in short bursts of up to 20miles per hour.
  • For such a big beast it surprisingly only sleeps 4 hrs per night.
  • Elephants have a huge heart weighing from 12-21 kilos, beating only at 35 beats per minute

Amazing Appetites

  • Elephants have gargantuan appetites and two-thirds of their day is spent eating.
  • Every day an elephant eats about 250kg of vegetation and drinks up to 83 litres of water.
  • In one year an Elephant….Drinks 15,500 gallon