One of many delightful mornings in Sumatra we watched the elephants who work keeping trails open in the National Park take a bath. After a long days travel, through endless dank oil palm plantations we began to slowly climb into low foothills and eventually in pitch darkness we rolled up to Tangkahan National Park visitor centre. Illuminated by the beams of the jeeps headlights was a ramshackle collection of buildings around a dirt road. We, being a film crew with local support, consisting – of Paul, cameraman/director; Ridzki, local producer; Nanang, second camera; Ustadz, driver/local comedian; Pi, support and self-confessed ladies man; myself, sound operator and stills photographer – were in need of some luxurious accommodation, we slept that night on a bamboo platform above the river. The following morning after cigarettes, coffee and very strangely, doughnuts with pink sugary icing on the top, we proceeded down to the river and watched the village elephants take a morning bath. The elephants, much like humans, have a complex system of hierarchy within their group. This manifests in various ways and for this group of elephants, bathing is a very big event. A group of rowdy elephants can be a difficult thing to control but the mahouts know through experience which elephant should go into the river first, then second, and so forth. The process is repeated again once the bathing is finished. The poor elephant who came last has to leave the river first. The chief elephant, a large matriarchal lady of considerable age, sat happily in the river watching everyone else leaving before making her way back herself.
To see the film we made during our trip to Sumatra please follow this link.