elephant camp Tangkahan

In November 2015, I was fortunate to visit Northern Sumatra as part of an 11-day charity challenge with 1 Million Women. I trekked the jungles of Gunung Leuser National Park for three days with a group of incredible women and we learnt about the effects of the palm oil industry, did a traditional medicine class, along with many other activities. We all had an absolutely amazing time together. Part of our journey included a visit to Tangkahan, where we visited an elephant camp, where rescued elephants are cared for. I learnt so much about the effects the palm oil industry is having on the lives of the elephants and the work the camp is doing is extremely inspiring.

The camp receives support from The Tangkahan Effect – a cause created from a group of community minded individuals, passionate about the well being of Tangkahan. I wanted to learn more about The Tangkahan Effect and the elephants and interviewed the founder of The Tangkahan Effect, Christie Reeves.

  1. Can you tell me the story behind The Tangkahan Effect?

The Tangkahan Effect was created in early 2015 after Natalie and I spent 10 days visiting Tangkahan for a wedding. We’d been over several times before this and had helped Tangkahan through other organisations with fundraising. Having trusted locals involved ensured we were able to communicate with the community and earn their respect, ensuring we focused on what the locals wanted and needed, not what we as Westerners thought they needed. Along with Edy and Hendra, we created The Tangkahan Effect. The idea behind it was that we have ongoing projects that support various parts of the community.

We want to be the ‘go to’ organisation that the community can come to for assistance. We also want to be able to help guests with their own fundraising ideas, working together to ensure money is raised for projects that help the community where it’s actually needed.


  1. How are you getting the message out to the world about the animals are becoming more endangered every day in Northern Sumatra?

The biggest threat to our animals of Indonesia is the destruction of their habitat. Rainforest world-wide is threatened by many commercial activities; the trade in tropical hardwood, land drainage to create plantations of palm oil, rubber and trees for paper pulp and poaching for the trade in wild animals. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football ovals of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production!!!!!

An estimated 1000-5000 Orangutans are killed each year for this development. The Orangutan is a keystone species and plays a vital role in maintaining the health of the ecosystem. An example of this being the spread of rainforest seeds in Indonesia, many of which can only germinate once passed through the gut of an Orangutan, hence this primate is essential for the existence of the forest.

The Tangkahan Effect educate people about the damage palm oil is causing, through Facebook and social media, through kindergarten and school trips and by being hands on and on the ground as often as possible to ensure our knowledge is up to date. By being physically present in Sumatra we can initiate projects that help the local villagers gain employment. We can also increase awareness of not only the palm oil industry but of the struggles the people endure when tourism is low.

  1. Tell us about the elephants at the camp – what are their personalities like?


Best Friend: Theo likes play fighting with Sari but doesn’t like Ardana much!

Favourite Female: Olive obviously, then Yuni, really he most all of them! He is lucky!

Favourite Food:  Everything – he constantly eats! He eats a lot as he is still growing!

Favourite Activity:  Walking in the jungle and constantly grazing on the grass in the forest!


Best Friend: Agustina, but Agustina doesn’t like her back!

Favourite Food: Grass, fruit, sugar cane, banana and pineapple. Whilst she was pregnant she would get extra pineapple, palm sugar, watermelon and bananas!

Favourite Activity: Swimming and walking in the jungle, although she cannot go out at the moment on Jungle Patrol because of her baby.


Best Friend: Agustina.

Favourite Food: Grass and Fruit.

Favourite Activity: Eating and trekking in the jungle, although she can not patrol whilst she has her baby dependant on her.


Best Friend: Eva, Agustina and Sari. Ardana sometimes doesn’t like Yuni and Olive.

Favourite Food: Banana and rice. Budiman often brings Ardana left over rice.

Favourite Activity: Eating and play fighting with her friends. She also talks a lot like her good friend Sari.


Best Friend: Olive, Sari is like a stepmother to Olive.

Favourite Food: All fruit!

Favourite Activity: Bath time, she loves to swim in the river. She also likes walking in the jungle and talking a lot to the other elephants!


Best Friend: Agustina. Sometimes Eva does not like Yuni!

Favourite Food: All fruit especially, pineapple, mango and durian.

Favourite Activity: Sleeping! She also loves playing with mud – she throws it up over her back with her trunk! She also loves eating of course!


Best Friend: Eva is her special friend.

Favourite Food: Banana, pineapple, grass and sugarcane.

Favourite Activity: Swimming and playing with her friends in the river. She also likes to dive under the water when she is swimming in the river. She is also a little bossy! She can not patrol at the moment as she has a nursing baby.

  1. What is the cost to care for each elephant and how can people help with raising funds for the camp or other ways to contribute?

It costs approximately $7000 per month to care for the ten elephants which includes food, medicines and a salary for the Mahouts. The highest cost being food, especially as there are three nursing mothers.

Money to care for the Conservation Response Unit (CRU) comes from elephant activities and donations from guests and businesses or organisations like The Tangkahan Effect and RAW Wildlife Encounters. The Tangkahan Effect have recently leased five rante (100m x 100m land size). We plan on planting fast growing foods such as pumpkin and corn to supplement the cost of feeding the elephants. This should reduce the feeding expenses by approximately 40%. Guests to Tangkahan can contact The Tangkahan Effect and check in with us as to how they can contribute, whether it be with their time (volunteering on our land) or by financially contributing to our CRU projects.

  1. What can people expect to see and do when they visit Tangkahan?

Tangkahan is a slow paced piece of paradise with a myriad of options for activities. Hiring a guide from the office or on arrival or at your accommodation should be a priority as the knowledge the Tangkahan guides have of the flora and fauna is priceless. River tubing with a delicious (enak!) lunch by one of the three water falls is definitely high on the list. A day’s trek into the jungle is a must and for the adventurous and a night or two in the Goat Cave is definitely recommended. If you’re lucky you’ll spot a wild Orangutan, hear a Hornbill call on the way to the Bat Cave or be woken up to the beautiful song of the Gibbon. Elephant bathing and feeding (not held on Fridays) should not be overlooked. The Conservation Response Unit along with the local council and their Rangers are currently working on new elephant activity programs. Exploring the village on motor bike, meeting the lovely Karonese people and new friends and a massage at the end of the day are also recommended activities. Days can also be spent hanging out at your lodge and I’d recommend one that overlooks the Bantang or Buluh Rivers. Hanging out on your balcony or in the restaurant you can watch the cheeky Macaques play or the Monitor Lizards skilfully cross the river. Tangkahan has many lodges to choose from, from back packer style, family friendly and even a lodge right next door to the elephant grounds!

  1. What are the top things to see and do in Northern Sumatra and how can they include a visit to Tangkahan into their travel itinerary?

Bukit Lawang is a popular tourist destination, Tangkahan and Bukit Lawang have a relationship much like Sydney and Melbourne where most visitors learn about and visit Tangkahan after visiting Bukit Lawang. A three hour (bumpy!!!) ride from Tangkahan will find you at this village which is home to an orangutan feeding platform. The platform was created for rehabilitated Orangutans who have been released into the Gunung Leuser National Park.  As they learn to fend for themselves they receive additional foods to keep them strong and healthy. Again, a guide is a must here to ensure you’re kept safe whilst exploring the home of the Orangutan, Thomas Leaf monkey and other wildlife.

White water rafting (90 minute drive), river tubing, exploring the markets and the Goat Cave should also be high on the to do list in Bukit Lawang.

Batu Katak is another small village approximately 45 minutes from Bukit Lawang. It too is home to a tropical rain forest, caves, wild animals and crystal clear rivers. You can also find rare species of plants named Rafflesia in this eco tourism village as well as head off on to a Tiger Trek where you help the rangers survey the land and destroy poacher traps. Much quieter than Bukit Lawang, the Karonese people are lovely and gentle and are very proud of their home. You can also volunteer at Green Life Project in Batu Katak, a not for profit organisation protecting the jungle and teaching sustainability and educating about environmental issues. Volunteers will participate in anti-poaching patrols, learning how to identify animal activity and position camera traps to monitor specific wildlife, record the details on the GPS system, and spot the presence of poachers and much more.

  1. Can you tell me about the current projects you are working on?


T Shirts / Bandanas / Postcards / Water bottles – for sale at CRU with 50% of sales going towards the CRU elephants and 50% coming back to The Tangkahan Effect to purchase new merchandise. We also hope to be able to pay a salary to one of the mahouts’ wives for manning the shop.

Electrical Fencing

In January 2016 we raised almost $7000 to provide safe and secure electrical fencing for the 10 elephants at CRU. This fencing allows the elephants to be tether free, keeps them safe from predators and for those elephants that get a little cranky with each other at times, keeps them safe from scuffles! We also purchased approximately 50 fast growing trees which will one day provide natural shade from the harsh elements of Sumatra.

In 2015, our first fundraiser was Feb Fast where Natalie and I went ‘dry’ for the month and raised more than $5000 to purchase shade sails for the elephants, we took over 4 shade sails, which currently provide protection from the sun for the three nursing mothers.

Elephant Veggie land – Our major 2016 project

We will be hosting an art exhibition in November 2016 with funds going towards this project. We will employ three local people to build fences on land that we have leased, they will then plant fast growing foods that are nutritious for the elephants and they will then protect the land (from cheeky Macaques who will steal the fruit from dawn til dusk!!). This elephant food will reduce CRU’s expenses by approximately 40%, will give three locals a salary and we hope in the future the land will be a part of a volunteer program for CRU.

Art Class

We are working in collaboration with a kindergarten here in Melbourne, Australia. Along with Sarah Jane May, a local artist here in Melbourne, we taught the children at the Tangkahan English Club to draw a kangaroo. This was a fun few days of prizes and games, singing and laughs. We then spent a morning with the Glass Street Kindergarten and taught them to draw an elephant. Teaching each class about the children on the other side of the world, we not only introduced them to a new language and geography but gave them an appreciation of how other children in the world live. This is an ongoing project and we look forward to the children’s fundraising exhibition in July 2016.

Women Sanitary Products

An ongoing project where we take reusable sanitary products to the women of Tangkahan. Life in the village can be difficult enough without having to worry about purchasing products for the menstrual cycle.

We’ve come to learn that many women and younger girls stay at home at ‘that time of the month’ as they’re unable to afford sanitary products. This means several days if not up to 2 weeks off school for the younger girls and for those women fortunate enough to have jobs, time from work for many of them.

No woman should have to choose between going to work or school and staying home because of a natural process.

Environmental Enrichment

Through social media fundraising we have provided the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Project with environmental enrichment for the rehabilitating Orangutan in their care.

Dog & Cat Health Management Project

We have desexed 10 cats and dogs over the past 15 months as well as supplying monthly flea and worm control and annual vaccinations against rabies, parvo and distemper, all of which are rampant in Northern Sumatra. This is an ongoing project and we look forward to welcoming new cats and dogs into this program in 2016.

Earth Day 2015 & 2016

In 2015 Edy and Hendra, along with some local friends planted fruit trees in the jungle and around the village, with money we had raised. Careful not to introduce too many trees into the jungle, we will monitor the progress of these trees and hope that one day they will provide the Orangutan, Gibbon and other wildlife with additional fruits for their diet. This weekend, we raised almost $500 for 40 mature trees, for Earth Day 2016. We will again plant fruit trees, however this time they will be planted on The Tangkahan Effects land which borders the Gunung Leuser National Park.

And finally, our support of the community no longer stops at Tangkahan.

Together with Hendra and another Tangkahan local, Blue, we plan on volunteering at Pro Natura in East Kalimantan on 11th May 2016 to help with their rehabilitation centre. From assisting in surgery, to cleaning the 150 cats and 25 dogs, to walking and dog training and education of the staff, we look forward to being able to make a difference. We sent two volunteers over in March 2016 and two more will head over in June 2016. We’re always looking for people to help us help Pro Natura. We plan on sending Hendra with a chosen Ranger from Tangkahan twice a year, not only to help Pro Natura and their staff but to bring their new found knowledge back to Tangkahan.

elephant camp Tangkahan


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  1. Just curious , will you be using those elephants for elephant rides ?

    • The Beauty Hiker

      Hi there,

      Thanks so much for your comment. Elephant riding is definitely something I’ve not engaged in, and during our visit, we did not see any elephant riding. I’ve contacted The Tangkahan Effect, who provide support through a variety of means regarding the elephant riding at the camp.

      The Tangkahan elephants are used for jungle patrols with their mahouts (walking through the jungle searching for illegal activity and surveying the land for flora, fauna and animals) and at this point for scheduled elephant riding 2 times per day. There are 4 elephants that can be ridden at the moment as 3 are nursing their newly born babies.

      It is The Tangkahan Effect’s hope that by mid 2017 riding will be phased out. Currently there are a number of tour operators who have sold riding programs to people which need to be honoured.

      The mahouts and many people in the village are learning about the effects of riding and they’re becoming passionate about change. There have been many meeting in the past 6 months where the mahouts, Rangers and guides have come together to discuss new programs that will bring in enough income for the elephant rescue centre.

      As mentioned in the article it costs approximately $7000 to feed and manage these beautiful creatures and currently the highest money earning activity is elephant washing.

      The Tangkahan Effect will be implementing a sponsorship program in the not too distant future where guests can purchase a t shirt, certificate and postcard representing their favourite elephant. We hope this will supplement the income and help to phase out the riding sooner rather than later. We also hope with the implementation of our vegie land later in 2016 that this will support CRU with elephant feeding and health care costs and again they’ll be able to phase out the riding sooner.

      I hope this assists with your comment.


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