Although it’s a small island, Bali really has so much to offer. Until recently I had never heard of Mason Elephant Park and Lodge. And the incredible thing is that it’s only half an hour from Ubud.
I have always loved elephants, they are probably my favorite animal, so getting a chance to be close to them and photographing them was an opportunity that I couldn’t resist.
I came to this park as a blank canvas, open to see what this place had to offer. I have been in elephant parks in Thailand and I have washed an elephant in India, but never seen one in Bali. This place is not an elephant sanctuary where the Elephants roam free. And with a bit of knowledge and common sense, I now see why this is not possible here.
Elephants are big animals. Up close, they are massive. They each eat 250Kg of food per day! At Mason there are 31 elephants. If the Elephants were roaming free, not only would the park and lodge would be destroyed, but a large part of Bali would as well. As well as that, it’s illegal in Bali for elephants to be wandering free. The elephants at Mason Lodge and Park are rescued elephants from Sumatra (which is 82 times bigger than Bali). Unfortunately, palm oil farming has caused their habitat to diminish to approximately half of what it used to be.
And it continues to shrink. Just as the orangutans who live in these jungles are losing their homes, so too are the elephants. Elephants end up separated from their family unit, some are poached and some are poisoned by farmers as the elephants now need to look for food on farmed land. Suddenly, there are a lot of elephants with nowhere to go, injured or with not enough food, and at risked of being killed. What is happening in Sumatra is a catastrophe. Their whole fauna is very quickly disappearing. Sumatran elephants are now an endangered species.
Of course, the best possible outcome for the elephants is to have their native habitat back or an elephant sanctuary where they could be free. Sadly, this doesn’t appear to be possible in Indonesia, and at this stage is not a realistic option. So, a pragmatic alternative is needed to save these elephants right now.
With this in mind, I’m in awe of the Mason family that took it upon themselves to house these elephants. Clearly, this is not a small undertaking. And it’s made even more challenging by the problem of navigating the bureaucracy of a developing country. There is no doubt that they really love these elephants and are seriously committed to the cause.
The park is immaculately kept. The grounds are stunning, with a mini-forest in the park and a jungle-trek behind it. There are 2 swimming pools for the Elephants to bathe. One is a man-made lake where the elephants can completely submerge and have a good play. There is also a huge restaurant and a kind of open-air stable where the elephants can rest, eat and be cleaned.
The Elephants are in great health. They have vets around the clock, they get immunized, they get given vitamins and minerals, they even get pedicures! The food they receive is quality controlled and, more than anything, the elephants are treated with love. This is abundantly clear. Elephants are not forced to do anything that they do not like to do, and training is done using a repetition and reward system of patience and empathy. No cruel methods are used and there is an instant dismissal for any mahout (elephant trainer/carer) striking an elephant.
They have zero tolerance of any kind of violence towards the Elephants. On my 3 days there, I didn’t even see any of the mahouts using a stick. They only talked to them and the elephants responded gently.
The accommodation at Mason includes small lodge with no more than 27 rooms/bungalows. The rooms are tastefully and comfortably furnished and are very accommodating for families and people with disabilities. 6 of the rooms face the park where the elephants eat and sleep. Going to sleep looking over the park and waking up with the same view is pretty special. Kids (and grown-ups) absolutely love it. As well as that, there is a swimming pool and 2 restaurants.
The park itself is not huge. While it’s has enough room for the elephants, it’s still small enough to have unexpected (and wonderful) encounters with these giants. Walking from my room to the pool, 2 enormous elephants (with their mahouts) crossed my path. It’s a humbling experience to be so close to them.
In the park, you can wash the elephants, you can feed them, you can walk through the park with a guide and learn all about them. You really can get close to them – enough to touch them and see their beautiful personalities. Even though they are big animals, not once I felt scared. They are gentle giants. I got a chance to meet with the Mahout Manager that came originally from Sumatra 20 years ago with the first 9 elephants. He knows all of the elephants and, in fact, a few elephants will only respond to him and no one else. He explained how incredibly intelligent they are and what a long-lasting memory they have. I also met with the manager of the park and it was inspiring to see how passionate she is about her job.
This lodge has won the prize for Best Eco lodge on the Luxury Hotel Awards two years in a row, as well as being supported by the National Geographic. It’s easy to see why. Everyone that works at the park sincerely loves and cares about the Elephants.
By dedicating themselves to Mason Park, they are doing something that truly matters – keeping these elephants alive and happy.