Bengkulu has proved to possess a beautiful and exciting site for adventurous activities. Friends of mine told their stories of National Park Seblat in North Bengkulu Regency of Bengkulu Province in such a way that I found myself intrigued to be right there. What is meant by the park is the existence of Elephant Conservation Center in North Bengkulu. Do you feel curious about it?  Just read on my trip notes being there.

Itinerary

Plan on the trip was initiated in the monthly meeting of Community for Scarce Flower Care conducted July 2012 on the survey over tourism potentials in the area which was reported to be the habitat of Sumatran Elephants (Elephas Maximus Sumatrae), Sumatran Tigers (Phantera Tigris Sumatrae), and Rafflesia Flower (Rafflesia Arnoldii). Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

Finally, based on the meeting, a trip to Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) was scheduled out between June 13 and 15th,, just with prior permission issued by Bengkulu Authorities.

Setting Out

We, consisting of three other friends Krisna Gamawan, Budi Santosa,and Tubagus Ardian and I,  of the Community for Scarce Flower Care  left for the site at exactly 8 am.  We travelled there by car and the driver took me to reach Sungai Seblat in some 4 hours from Bengkulu. After taking an hour travelling, we had our breakfast in Pantai Tapak Balai Lais, North Bengkulu.

Pantai Tapak Balai Lais of North Bengkulu

Pantai Tapak Balai Lais is a one of amazing beaches in the Province of Bengkulu whose special attract is yellowish sand attached to reef located in the middle of the sea which is said as ‘Tanah Lot’ of North Bengkulu, shaping like a small island with coconut and other plantations growing. This island resulted from fracture of large rocks generated by abrasion process and produced good-looking colors, making it an amazing site to visit. We did not miss the chance to take our photos on our dropping in.

Holiday in the Bengkulu Province of Sumatra

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Going on the Trip

Just after an hour of rest in Tapak Balai, we went on our trip. On our way we enjoyed the beauty of hills and seashore. Exactly 1 pm, we arrived at a village called Kota Bani, where we dropped in a while  to practice our mid day prayer or Dzuhur and had lunch. At 2 pm, we went on our trip to cover 16 km of distance, passing by a rocky street where oil palm plantations grow at both sides. Finally, we reached Simpang Gajah, a junction where an elephant column stood to indicate that it was an entrance to Seblat Elephant Concervation Center. The car took its down turning and passed by an even worse street which was bumpy and rocky to lead to a large river, that is, Seblat River.

Elephant Conservation Center (ECC)

Elephant Conservation Center is located at Suka Baru village of Putri Hijau district, North Bengkulu regency in the Province of Bengkulu.

At exactly 3 pm, we arrived at the site whose amazing views never failed to spoil us. There were some men in charge appearing across the river who were ready to pick us up on a small boat. The river had very clear water. While crossing it, there looked some elephants with their Mahout (tamer) going down the river for bathing. It was a really amazing moment to have a look at this. No wonder, some foreign tourists rushed to take their pictures or record them in their video.

On our arrival, we were welcome by the coordinator of ECC, vet Erni Suyanti Musabine and some tamers and other men in charge. We were introduced to a foreign tourist called Mr. Bruce Levick, an Autralian volunteer in charge of fund raising for Bona, a baby elephant of 17 months of age. He ran the fund raising program by way of social media under a website called ‘Save Bona The Elephant”

We didn’t really wish to miss those meaningful moments when the elephants bathed with their tamer. So, we were always ready with our camera and video recording devices for our upcoming promotion.

Afterwards, we were taken to a simple cottage prepared for tourists to stay. It is a clean and comfortable wooden cottage with simple bedding and bathing facilities provided. This cottage was intended to provide those who planned to spend several days there.

There was no power installed in that area. The only one was with the use of power generator operated between 5 and 12 pm, the time when we took a chance to charge our battery for mobile phone, handy cam, and accessing the internet.

We swam in River Seblat enjoying the clear water of the river at 5 pm. It was nice to swim since it could keep our body refreshed just after a long and tiring trip. The clean water of the river combined with the beauty of views surrounded in the area was making the site valuable to visit.

By 7 pm we stayed in the camp kitchen for dinner, while doing some internet browsing with limited connection that sometimes was on and off. However, we managed to update our status and upload images of all the activities in ECC Seblat.

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The night was so fascinating with stars twinkling over the sky which went matched with the dark sight of thick forest of Seblat, accompanied with various kinds of forest animals’ noise faintly heard. It was just a high time we started our discussion about this special site with vet Erni and Mr. Bruce. We learned that, as a conservation area in Bengkulu, this primary forest was under critical condition due mainly to illegal logging and coal mining activities though, in fact, EEC has been promoted to be a Natural Park from previously a specifically functioned  Limited Product Forest.

It’s worth noting that ECC Bengkulu is not known to the Indonesian not even to Bengkulu residents, but is to the world since there have been lots of worldwide visitors to this site. Some months ago, visitors from France, Russia, Chech Republic, Switzerland, and Belgium came to ECC to learn how to take care of elephants for a week. They involved themselves in bathing the elephants, recognizing elephant meals and aids tamers required to care those 19 elephants. They also helped care Bona, a baby elephant of 2 years of age which grew as a conflict victim and was still in need of breastfeeding.

Getting Acquainted with Bona

Bona, a small elephant with her long trunk was no longer a character of story in Bobo magazine I used to read. She did exist in our real life as I visited Bengkulu. She was a 17 months cute elephant which often rubbed her long trunk over a crossbar of kitchen door in the conservation center. This ‘acting’ instead of ‘getting amuck’ indicated that she was not patient enough to satisfy her hunger and thirst with a bottle of milk on its way to serve. Sometimes, she made back step action to attract the visitors. That was a funny view we had with elephant Bona as soon as we arrived at ECC Seblat.

Mr. Bruce stayed at the conservation center for several months to take care of Bona. I learned from him how to prepare milk for the elephant as I offered him a help with the milk for Bona.

Mr. Bruce was a member of Save Bona Team whose main task was to raise fund for Bona by creating a page in social network facebook to campaign for Bona conservation. Those who wished to take part in the action could donate some of their fund by opening the page on facebook “Save Bona the Elephant” or website www.savebona.com

It was a big luck that, for the first day at elephant camp, friends and I have experienced how to feed milk Bona at the first hand.

How Come Bona was There

Vet Erni Suyanti told us the female baby elephant called Bona was found at the age of 6 months, wandering alone somewhere near a commercial agricultural enterprise of Alno Co. It started from a report made by a worker of oil palm manufactory which shared borders with ECC Seblat. He told an elephant got lost in the plantation. Afterwards, the elephant was saved and taken to this conservation area. Upon being found, Bona was in worse condition since it went astray alone for 15 days without food. Vet Erni further told at the age of 6 months, baby elephant merely fed on breastfeeding from its mother and should not be separated far from her mother. Seeing the fact, direct and intensive care was taken by ECC workers, many of whom were tamers of 18 elephants in ECC. The limited amount of budget kept them from giving Bona good care since she only fed on soya bean and other vegetable milk which cost up to $18 per can each day. We strongly guessed that one of seven elephants found dead in 2011 was the mother of Bona.

We ended our discussion at 11 pm, and then went to sleep. At 12 pm, the generator went off and turned everything dark

Tracking into Forest on Elephant Ride

It was the second day we were at the elephant camp. I woke up at 5 and practiced our morning prayer, Subuh. We were greeted by the cold and fresh weather in the morning. We did not intend to miss our best moment that day. It was tinged with orange of sunlight on the horizon accompanied with shaded views of the large Sablat forest and chirping birds to greet the sunrise.

That morning we were surprised by the presence of Bona in the camp kitchen. She made a funny action to ask for milk. Mr. Bruce and I learned to blend various ingredients into milk. To be precise, it consisted of 1 big teapot of 200 gr powder milk Nutrilion Soya, 100 ml milk squeezed from coconut, 100 gr Wombaroo (exported product), half teaspoon of calcium powder mixed in half size a teapot of hot water, evenly stirred and blended in cold water up to the size of teapot full and stirred one more time. Bona normally drank 4 big Aqua bottles of milk. Then, she went back playing with her foster mother, an adult female elephant called Aswita.

That day we planned to have an elephant riding track into the forest as far as 5 km, this tracking was intended to know sort of potentials the forest contained so that it could be developed into an interesting ecotourism object.

Nelson and Haris were two patrolling elephants that were assigned to accompany us getting around the forest. It was the first and most exciting moment for us to have a ride on the elephant. Bengkulu’s tropical rain forest was rich in its flora and fauna diversity such as Sumatran Tiger, Elephant, Bear, Rafflesia Arnoldii, and any other unique species. It was really an extraordinary experience we have ever had. The tigers were so intelligent that they could easily cover any types of routes, whether they were bumpy or rocky. Rivers, hills, trees were all nothing.

We passed by a large river with clear water and pebbles widely spread at the bottom. Its heavy stream made it possible for us to do rafting and the like, a potential tourist activity for the future time I concluded.

Upon passing by a vast savannah, I felt like to be somewhere in Africa. A herd of wild bulls seemed to gather in a distance, making the panorama more interesting. It was said by our guide that we had been lucky if, on our tracking into the forest, we could have seen such animals as Sumatran Tiger, deer, monkeys, and some others.

On our arrival at the tropical rain forest, we found ourselves shaded under big trees that let only a small amount of sunlight penetrate and leave the weather fresh. We also found some trees with their uniquely shaped fruits and colorful flowers, the ones that I never met before. Deep in the forest as far as 5 km there were habitat of Rafflesia Arnoldii and a great number of ‘tentrastigma’ plantations. Unfortunately, we have not managed to find their buds.

At 2 pm, we took a rest at Air Cawang Camp, where elephants and their tamers transited while patrolling into the forest. And after some 1 hour rest, we went back home through the same tracking routes. Well, that’s an exciting adventure.

Bathing Elephants

The next afternoon, we had a chance to bathe elephants at river Seblat, and a tamer taught me how to communicate with them. We did it by taping their particular parts of body to make them seated, stand, walk, or stop acting.

Nelson, a giant elephant we bathed, was the oldest one with some 3 ton of weight and 40 years of age. He was the most intelligent elephant and pretty kind to anyone getting close to him. We brushed his rough skin and his back using our hand. We instructed him to have seated and stand up while bathing in the river. He did what he was just ordered, making us feel like a real elephant tamer.

As soon as the bathing was over, Nelson directly woke up when we still remained on his back and were taken to the camp right away. Then we ordered him to sit down and he did as the instruction. Nelson was really intelligent and kind.

Back to Bengkulu City

It was the third day of our visit to ECC and we had to be back to the city of Bengkulu. That morning, just before leaving, we took a chance to give Bona some milk. At exactly 8 am, after we had some games with Bona for a while, we did our packing and asked mahout (tamers) for permission to leave. They have served and welcome us warmly. Although we only spent 3 days and 2 nights, EEC Seblat made us deeply impressed with unforgettable moments we had. We never thought before that Bengkulu was enriched in a plenty of biodiversity such as Sumatran Tigers, Elephants, and Rafflesia Arnoldii, the giant flower the world ever had. Here is a place where everything is available to see.

Therefore, from now on, let’s make Natural Park Seblat a natural tourist destination in Bengkulu.  It offered the real wildlife nature. It looked as if it had been a beautiful pearl of Bengkulu which, later on, became well-known not only throughout Indonesia, but worldwide as well.

Well, you could watch the video of our recorded trip in You Tube under title ‘Jalan-Jalan Bareng Sofian (JJBS) of a special edition “Journey to Seblat” part 1-4. In case of interest, I would be ready to be your guide visiting ECC Seblat.

Just be familiarized with, love, and conserve our regional potentials. Kindly conserve!!!

Trip Notes of Sofian Rafflesia, a Bengkulu Traveler and an Activist for Puspa Langka Care Community

For further information and resources on the Bengkulu province of Sumatra view the map of Bengkulu here.