NOW! Bali’s Alistair Speirs sat down with Nigel Mason, founder of Mason Adventures, and discussed the role of Mason Elephant Park in education and conservation of the endangered Sumatran Elephants.
Hi Nigel, it’s been a while since I last spoke to you, can you tell me what’s new with you and your company?
Well quite a lot actually as this year we’ve done a number of things. Firstly of course we’ve opened the new Mason Gourmet Chocolate factory near the Elephant Park, with outlets in Ubud, Legian and at our Head Office on the By Pass. Our new Jungle Buggie operation has also become very popular as has the restaurant there, Koko Bambu. But the biggest change this year is our name change from Bali Adventure Tours to Mason Adventures.
How has that gone, was it difficult?
Surprisingly not, as our company is very well known after 30 years of operation, so it went very smoothly.
I’ve noticed that one particular animal activist group has recently targeted elephant operators around Asia, has this impacted on the Mason Elephant Park?
To a small degree, as they are trying to stop people going anywhere that has animals, not just elephants, but it is very emotionally charged rather than logical or scientific. We are an Animal Welfare Park with more than 20 years of experience in caring for the critically endangered Sumatran elephant, whereas these people are basing their arguments on limited and biased observations from afar that is more emotional rather than logical. Remember they sit behind desks, while we actually have to do the hard yards.
Can you explain that a little more?
Sure, what I’m saying is that emotion is relevant in many situations, but when it comes to reality in this difficult world of depleting animals in the wild, emotion doesn’t save them from extinction. Only action and investment in sustainable businesses, such as Parks and Zoos can really help in their survival, as emotional theories don’t solve the problems, in fact it just seems to muddy the waters.
So how does your Elephant Park help with this situation?
What we have done is put theory into practice by investing in a park that has brought major awareness to the plight of Sumatran elephants and educated a couple of generations of people to the plight of this beautiful animal, by allowing people to get up close and personal to these creatures. Before our park started there was almost no understanding of Indonesian elephants.
Are there negative consequences to this?
Not really, although there are of course certain compromises that have to be made to keep these animals safe, secure and healthy. Let me explain. This is a collection of elephants that were saved from a terrible situation where they had been displaced through deforestation and held in horrific condition where their life expectancy was between 2 to 6 years at best. The fact is it’s very easy to criticise what you don’t really understand and that all of our 27 rescued elephants would now be dead if not rescued by us. Whereas at the park they are in a safe and happy situation where they have all survived and in fact have bred 4 new babies in the last few years. (Read more about the effects of deforestation in Sumatra)
Nigel in Sumatra
But what are the compromises that you’ve had to take?
Well of course we are firstly on smaller amount of land and also have to make sure that enough income is made to support the elephants, staff and the park itself. This meant creating a self-supporting operation. People tend to forget that it takes a lot of money to feed and upkeep elephants and we get no financial support from the government or private enterprise. All our money comes from either the guests who visit or from my other operations. In fact its our other operations that paid to build the park in the first place and sometimes it’s only this that keeps the park and its 31 elephants and 160 staff going after disasters such as terror attacks and volcano’s erupting.
So what are the animal activists demanding?
They are saying all elephants should be back in the jungle. This would be fine if there was a jungle to send them back to, however the reality is that it’s mostly gone and this is why these animals were put in camps in the first place – before we saved them and gave them a safe and clean sanctuary. Secondly they are saying that they should be in the same environment as where they came from. Again this is impossible, especially in Bali, which is 100 times smaller than Thailand, lacking any rainforest areas anyway.
So what’s the answer Nigel?
The best answer is to protect the few elephants that we can, as this species is predicted to be extinct in the wild, (if nothing changes), by 2029. The Mason Elephant Park is one of the places in Bali that have met the challenge of creating a comfortable and unique home for these rescued elephants, so that they can live out a comfortable life. The compromise is that we have to protect that man made environment from the elephants normal destructive nature and that the elephants themselves have to be involved in their own continued existence by attracting guests to support themselves and the continued existence of the park.
What do your plan for the future.
We will continue to invest in the park to make it a better place for the elephants and for the guests who come to visit from all over the world. This year we will complete a new ‘free roaming’ area to rotate the elephants in throughout the day for both relaxation and interaction and do other modifications as we can afford, to improve other elephant facilities. We will also abandon all shows by building a new indoor theatre, where guests will be able to watch a movie that will be made showing the history of the Sumatran Elephant and the history of the park. This adds to our already established Museum, Art Gallery and Discovery Exhibition. We will also show our famous rescue documentary there, ‘Operation Jumbo”.
That is quite substantial, do you think it will appease the animal activists?
No, not really as they are looking for something that is no longer possible on this fast changing planet. But we have and will always take care of our elephants and give them a happy life and I certainly hope that the average person will understand this.
Do you believe that you have done the best you could do under the circumstances.
Yes, as I’ve devoted 20 years of my life to saving and protecting our Bali herd of elephants. We have given them a life and since arriving in Bali, they have never been treated with brutality, as is often seen in Thailand, they have been been treated with love and respect by all our amazing and dedicated staff at the park.