Friday, 6 May 2016

Sungai Ketiar Elephant Sanctuary

Our boat trip to Lasir Falls in Lake Kenyir had been an absorbing tour. On the return journey to the jetty, our boatman advised us that there was an elephant sanctuary, just one hour’s drive from the Tasik Kenyir Visitor Centre. After a little discussion, we decided to take up the challenge…


As we drove along with the lake on our left, the water views were glorious and, when we could not see the lake, we were enveloped by verdant and spectacular rainforest: the journey was so satisfying. However, we were not prepared for what was to follow on our arrival at Taman Pemuliharaan Kehidupan Liar Negeri Terengganu (Terengganu State Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre), better known as Sungai Ketiar Elephant Sanctuary.

The entrance to the Sungai Ketiar Elephant Sanctuary

We arrived just prior to the closing time of the Centre… luckily, just in time for the washing and feeding of the elephants. The elephants had been taken by their handlers for one of their daily walks in the ‘back paddock’ and were being led to their bathing area. On arrival, the elephants were leg-chained before the bathing began. As much as we disliked seeing these majestic animals shackled, we understood that this was for safety reasons. Clearly, the handlers loved their charges, which were treated with kindness, total respect and lots of nutritious goodies.

"Do I get a back-scratch too?"

In a stroke of very good fortune for us, after the bathing, all other visitors to the sanctuary left…


Finding ourselves alone and being an inquisitive couple, we spoke with the handlers in Malay. They were very pleased to accommodate two Aussie travellers, thoroughly answering our enquiries about the local environment and the animals which lived wild in the vicinity… wild elephants and tigers among others. We were stunned to learn that these animals could still be found in a wild state in the adjoining rainforests.


While we talked about issues related to the sanctuary, one of the men took us over to hand-feed a baby elephant: Ebi had been separated from his herd in the vicinity of the town of Karak (which was his alternative name). Alone, there was no choice but to put the youngster in care. What an experience! Feeding him papaya, banana and watermelon was joyous for me… though one wonders when or even whether the little elephant can ever be liberated to the wild environment. Regardless, he was in good hands…

Ebi, feasting on fruits

When we had finished feeding Ebi, we were taken over to meet Mas, a beautiful 38-year-old lady. She posed imperiously for me, trunk raised and curled in salute, as we were photographed together.


Then, excitement reigned. The men, encouraging us to hurry, rushed to the back gate which separated the display area from the wilds. A sun bear appeared from the jungle, seeking out a free feed…

A hungry sunbear appears from the forest...

We did not want to leave, but leave we had to. The drive home was barely eventful… a macaque sitting on a road-side crash railing… a pretty waterfall where people were bathing with their kids… and finally a mother babirusa shepherding her three little ones across the road into the adjoining rainforest.


The year was 2012. I am sure that the Sungai Ketiar Elephant Sanctuary has changed. I have read that currently there is a 100 Ringgit entry charge (about $35 Australian dollars). Back then, we were asked for a simple donation, which we were happy to provide. We were happy to provide it because we had experienced an unforgettable travel moment… An experience of a lifetime…  One which we would like to repeat in coming years…

"Do you think they will come back to see us again?"

We have visited other elephant sanctuaries in Thailand and Malaysia. However, this was the centre with which we have been most impressed. Our visit to the sanctuary had been a personal and intimate experience, made memorable by the individualised attention we received from staff members, who clearly cared for their needy charges.


Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

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