Locations: Indonesia

Borobudur, Central Java, INDONESIA
CAMP: Kandang Gajah Camp at Borobudur Temple

Bobobudor Temple

The Kandang Gajah Camp, which is located on the grounds of the Borobudur Temple in Central Java, Indonesia, is within one of the most beautiful lush valleys I have ever seen.  The Borobudur Temple was discovered under volcanic ash and jungle overgrowth in the 1814.  It’s exact origins and history remain a mystery.  Borobudur is the largest Buddhist Temple in the world, erected in 800 A.D., it contains countless stone etchings and features 504 buddha statues and 72 stone stupas arrayed in concentric circles around the temple’s center.

Volcanos at Borobudor

Quite a site to see in itself but when considering the surrounding landscape, truly breathtaking.  The temple ‘s valley is surrounded on three sides by volcanoes, one of which, Mr. Merapi, most recently erupted in 2005.  Indonesia is home to some of the most kind and sincere people that I have ever met, but the country as a whole has had its share of knocks in recent years.  After the Bali bombing came the tsunami, after the tsunami came the earthquake, then the volcano eruption, then the floods…

Nevertheless, it is a beautiful place to visit.  Really it is, trust me.  Upon my most recent travels to this seemingly prehistoric land, I was able to reconnect with one of our star painters, Sela, as well as with her team of mahouts, her art teacher, Robertus, and our main man and overseer of the Borobudur Elephant Art Project, Sean Flakelar.

Kandang Gajah Camp, where Sela lives, is physically located on the grounds of Borobudur Temple.  The camp has four elephants, most of which are used to give people rides around the temple, especially at sunrise when the views are breathtaking.  It is a very small simple operation that is government funded but not necessarily funded well.  The elephants however are very healthy and well looked after.  Because of all the recent natural disasters and such, tourism has been down in the area for a few years now, which is unfortunate but has however provided Sela the time to develop her technique, and look to the past for inspiration.

Sela at work

Sela first learned to paint when the AEACP last visited the camp in 2003.  She has since refined her technique and with the help of local artist extrodinare, Robertus Sutopo, has been developing various color combinations and line qualities.  So far, Sela is the only artist at the camp but this may change in the future.

Monies from the sale of Sela’s artwork has most recently helped fund a visit by elephant expert and head veterinarian at the Singapore Zoo & Night Safari, Dr. Richard McCort.  He was brought in to check up on the elephants and the conditions at the camp as he will be doing on an annual basis.  Many camps have onsite veterinarians but we felt that the elephants here would benefit from an outside expert opinion.  After his visit, Dr. McCort gave the camp high marks for the general health of the elephants as well as for the food and care provided to them.  However, he did suggest some basic improvements for the facility as well as suggestions for proper care of the one bull elephant on the grounds.  Of foremost importance in terms of improvements of the facility was to be the shallowing of the elephant pool.  He deemed that the sides of the bathing pool for the elephants was unnecessarily steep and could prove difficult for the elephants to get in and out of the water later in life.  The logistics of this are currently being worked out and this physical improvement will be remedied this summer with funding from the AEACP.

As for the bull elephant, he has become quite moody and dangerous to handle.  Because of this, he is not being used in trekking activities and does not receive enough attention and exercise.  After meetings between Mr. Flakelar and representatives of Kandang Gajah Camp, it was decided that the bull would be better off in one of the semi-natural preserves that exist on the island of Sumatra, which is just to the north of Java.  Here the tusker can live out his life with a minimum of human contact and so will not injure himself or others.  AEACP funding is being used for the transfer of this tusker to ensure that he has a better life.

Despite the recent natural disasters in the area, Central Java is really a lovely place to visit.  Depending upon your budget, there are two main locations to stay at when visiting the temple.  There are modest yet comfortable accommodations to be found on the temple grounds at the Manohara Hotel (www.borobudurpark.com) or for a bit more luxurious accomodations, I would strongly suggest the Amanjiwo Resort (www.amanjiwo.com).  Also, if you do plan to visit, please contact Mr. Robertus Sutopo, who was born on the Borobudur grounds and knows more about the place than anyone you’ll find.  Plus, if you are lucky you may even get to meet his beautiful family, hear his children play classical music, and peruse his own artwork which adorn the walls of his home.

David with Sutopo family
Me with the Sutopo Family

The AEACP, and myself personally, would like to sincerely thank Sean Flakelar and his staff at the Amanjiwo, Robertus Sutopo and his family, the manager and staff at Manohara Hotel, Sela’s team of mahouts, and of course Sela herself.  Fantastic work is being done here at the Borobudur Temple and we are all very excited about the limitless possibilities of this larger than life animal artist.  To see the new and stunning works being done by Sela, please check out her page from the list on the right at www.elephantart.com.


Sean Flakelar
Amanjiwo Hotel
Borobudur, Central Java, Indonesia
T: +62.0293.788333
F: +62.0293.788355

Robertus Sutopo
Local artist, artistic advisor
Barepan Wanurejo, Borobudur
Magelang  56553  Indonesia
T: +62.0293.789006
F: +62.0293.788355


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