Bali Safari and Marine Park- Elephant Encounters

Eating leaves in the beginning of the play

I have always liked elephants. They are one of just a few animals that start with the letter, E, like my name. When the convenient (and free if you book tickets online) shuttle picked us up from our hotel, little did we know that we would discover what we quickly dubbed, “The Disneyland phenomenon.” When you go out of your way to do something over the top and super awesome for your kids, they must reciprocate by throwing numerous fits and trying to make the day as miserable as possible. I chalk some of our troubles to not having adequate snacks. I usually have nuts, granola bars, crackers and dried fruit for go-to day trip snacks. These were confiscated at the gate of the park, which was infuriating! I understand them wanting to make money on food, and not wanting people to feed the animals, but I like to keep my child happy with snacks. All they had at the park were weird flavored potato chips, traditional Indonesian food being sold out of carts, and popcorn. To make matters worse, I had hyped up the day saying we were going to ride on an elephant. So, when we arrived in the car, my son thought we were going to ride on an elephant immediately. Out of the car, and onto the elephant. Well, our elephant ride was not until 3:00 pm. That meant several hours and a nap before the elephant ride. That might explain some of his behavior as well. Although it was a hard parenting day, it was still a fun and memorable place to visit for the entire family!

Elephant on stage with humans

 Bali Safari and Marine Park is a member of the Taman Safari group that has been charged by the Indonesian government with saving the Sumatran elephants from extinction. We attended an elephant show that told the story of the clash of humans with Sumatran elephants in a very dramatic way. A narrator told the story in English, while well-trained elephants and people acted it out on the stage. In the beginning, a bunch of elephants came out. Each had their part to play- some ate food, and one went for a swim in  the moat. Then the humans came out and built a settlement on the land the elephants were using. Basically, elephants’ land has gradually been taken over by farming and human settlements on Sumatra. This has led to more clashes between elephants and humans. The elephants came and trashed the humans’ camp, which made the humans want to shoot the elephants. They had an elephant that pretended to get shot and hobbled on three legs, and then fell over dead. She even stayed there for awhile before getting up and exiting the stage. Eventually, the forest ranger came to restore peace between the elephants and the Sumatrans. I think it involved a mixture of preserving land for wild elephants and taking the elephants to other locales (the Taman safari parks) to rehab them and give them a better life.

Forest ranger elephant saved the man from drowning, and carried him
with his trunk!

My favorite part of the elephant show was the swimming elephant. This elephant swam around the moat and dunked itself under water several times. Sometimes, its whole face would be underwater, and just its trunk was above water like a submarine. It was really neat to see.

Submerged, swimming elephant
Loved to watch the trunk snorkel action

After the end of the drama, the show presenters came out to give a little education on Sumatran elephants. They are a sub-species of Asian elephant found only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. They are much smaller than African elephants, and their coloring seems to be different in that they are darker skinned, but with pink splotches on the trunk and ears. They have smaller ears, which they flap to stay cool in the heat. They have four toenails on each foot (as modeled in the picture below) and only males have long tusks. Females may not have tusks at all, or have short tusks that are only visible when the mouth is open. As I said before, Sumatran elephants are critically endangered, with only about 2000 left on earth. How privileged we were to meet several of them in Bali!

When I say it was raining, it was really raining!
Elephant personalities poster

Soon, it was time for the elephant ride!  They had this cute poster with all of the different elephants and their personalities and interests. I felt that the elephants here were well treated, and that the handlers really regarded these amazing animals as family and treated them with love and respect. My son and I got to ride Angel, who is known for eating a lot! My husband rode Tini, whose nickname was “Easy Breeze.” They only take out 6 elephants or so at a time for elephant safaris, so we were in a pretty small group. The workers gave everyone a hat that Landon is modeling above. I call it a rice farmer’s hat, but I’m unsure of the real name. Little did I know it was great for keeping the rain off our faces and shoulders! We all had rain jackets so we were prepared. At first, I was shocked at how much we lurched from side to side as the elephant walked. I was scared my son was going to slip and fall off! We had a metal cage around us to hold, but at first that seemed insufficient. Once we got used to it everything was better. Luckily, the rain stopped fairly soon after we started the safari.

No cameras allowed on the safari, so here is our one and only
picture of us atop the elephants

I thought my favorite part would be riding on the elephant itself, but I actually most enjoyed watching what all of the other elephants in the group were doing. It was hard to see what our own elephant was doing because we were way on top of its back. I could see what the other elephants were doing clearly. My husband’s elephant had an itch on her back, so he spent a lot of time holding on for dear life as his elephant rubbed her butt back and forth on large boulders. We spent the safari time in the African animals area where there were rhinoceroses, oryx, zebras, and gazelles. Mostly our elephants spent their time wandering around looking for food. One elephant in front of us found a coconut, cracked it with its foot, and ate the flesh inside. Another drank some water from the stream and sprayed it in the air, much to the surprise of the rider! Many of the elephants relieved themselves, which was a sight to see in itself.

My son loves rhinos. It was so fun to see them up much closer than we could at a zoo or really in any other setting. Here we were, atop these magnificent elephants, and the rhinos were fighting over food, huffing and charging right next to us! I was not worried because the elephants were much bigger than the rhinos, but it was awesome to see their armor-like skin, and hear them make their noises in such close quarters. Angel did eat some food, but not as much as her bio on the board said she would. All too soon, we were heading back to the loading area. They had a platform built so that we could dismount at the same level as the elephant’s back instead of worrying about how to get on and off from way up in the air. The elephant handlers just climbed up with a boost from the elephant. I got to pet the elephant’s back in front of the saddle area, but when I tried to pet it behind the saddle area, Angel swatted me pretty hard with her tail. The handler said, “Be careful, they do not like being touched behind the saddle area!” Too late, buddy. My son tried to touch Angel’s back, but the bar was in the way, so he had to wait until we fed the elephants later to touch them.

CUTE does not begin to describe this baby elephant

This was one of those “WOW!” once in a lifetime moments for me. I could just tell from the show and riding the elephant that these creatures are so intelligent, majestic, beautiful creatures. They deserve special care and respect.

After the elephant show, there was an opportunity to feed a mommy and baby elephant. There was also a massive crowd and my son ran away. After our elephant ride, he still ran away, but there was no line and no other people around! We bought some bananas from the booth and a handler helped us feed these incredible creatures. First, my husband tried to help my son feed the big elephant. My son was very frightened of the elephant, especially since this mommy knew that she was getting food! She was extending her trunk as far is it could go, and he had the banana in his hand and would not get close enough to pass it off. When my husband pushed him close enough, he dropped the banana on the ground out of the elephant’s reach. It was interesting to see his reaction, I thought he was going to have a fun time feeding the elephants!

Next, my son tried feeding the baby elephant. Now, this guy was closer to his size, so I thought he would be more comfortable feeding it. Nope. Still scared. Oh well, the baby was just too adorable for words.

Mommy’s trunk- she wanted more bananas!

Right into her humongous mouth!

If you held the bananas up high, the elephant opened her mouth really wide and lifted her trunk. I tried both giving her the bananas and let her feed herself with her trunk, and putting the bananas in her mouth. She would just sit there and open her mouth while I shoved 3-4 bananas in, and not chew them. I stopped for awhile to give her a break and she found me with her trunk and wanted more! It is intimidating staring into a mouth that could easily swallow your head, or your hand!

It was an awesome experience to feed the elephants. We got to pet them a little and learn how they eat and move. While we were taking these family pictures, the baby elephant was using its trunk to sniff my foot. It felt like huge, wet kisses grabbing at my foot. I don’t think I will forget the weird sensation of being smelt by an elephant. I think the mommy elephant was looking for more food in this picture as well. Spending our day with the elephants is something we are likely never to forget! 


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