Elephants in Tangkahan in the Gunung Leuser National Park

In the past there were many wild elephants on Sumatra and often caused great problems for the local population as they destroyed rice fields and eating the crops. Instead of being killed by the farmers, the elephants are now trained to work in the forest and as a tourist attraction.

Interesting in this regard was that when the Sumatra railroad was build in the 1880s, and telegraph poles were directly put besides the rail, many of these poles were shortly afterwards pulled out of the ground by elephants who did this for fun. This shows that in those days there were many elephants in the Gunung Leuser region.

Nowadays the Sumatra elephant is almost extinct. Only at a few places we can see them in their natural environment, the largest is the elephant training center in Waykambas near Bandar Lampung in South Sumatra.

Elephants in Tangkahan
Elephants in Tangkahan

In North Sumatra in Tangkahan are also a limited number of elephants stationed by the world wildlife fund. Here are the elephants used for forest patrol and work in the forest for logging. Besides that are they five days a week available as tourist attraction. Tourists can ride an elephant and bath them in the river. Herewith became the beautiful Tangkahan area a major elephant attraction.

Elephants in Tangkahan River
Elephants in Tangkahan River

In the 1920s former governor Westenenk of East Sumatra district, published a book named ‘Where man and tiger are neighbours’ in which he described, besides extensive stories about the Sumatran tiger, also about elephants, who were in these years still all over Sumatra. The following quote is from his book:

‘Just at the moment when she reached for the durian fruit, along the tree, something which looked like a giant snake came down and approached her. She looked up and saw that it was an elephant trunk. The naughty eyes of the elephant seemed to be lighting up, and subsequently she began to see another animal and one more.. Without knowing it she had wandered into a herd of elephants… She began to scream out of fear which in turn shocked the elephants and sparked a thundering chaos. In the kampong the children suddenly felt the mood turning bleak and everybody was shocked and silent. ..They followed the herd.. deep in the mountains they heard the well-known roaring and falling of trees…. The herd passed by and at a short distance from the herd.. six cows appeared. A young bull with little ivory; sociable ear flapping and with deep, sounds, the company slowly strolled along…’  ( Westenenk, L.C. Waar Mensch en Tijger Buren Zijn ‘s Gravenhage 1928: 64-66)

Route description:

4 days program but can be inserted in all other tours.

Distance from Medan about 5 hours, it is not possible to return to Medan in the evening of the same day. You have to stay there for overnight in a simple accommodation.