By Michael Bachelard
Sumatra is the only place on earth where orang-utans, tigers, elephants and rhinoceros are found together. But it may not be so for much longer. Now, only remnant populations of each survive as their habitat is cleared for yet more plantations, and by illegal loggers.
Driving through North Sumatra, on rutted roads from dawn to dusk, you see little else but oil palm trees in ordered rows and dozens of trucks, their precious kernels piled high.
Arriving at Tangkahan comes as a relief. This tiny village sits across the river from the Gunung Leuser National Park, where the landscape is how it used to be - a jungle so tangled even walking through it would seem impossible.
But even the national park is not entirely safe and, in search of food, animals regularly stray into the plantations and gardens of villagers. At the jungle's edge, elephants are in danger of being poisoned - five have died in the neighbouring province of Aceh in the past six weeks, their young taken as pets or left to die.
Advertisement In Tangkahan a desperate rearguard action is taking place. It's home to the seven Sumatran elephants housed by a non-government organisation, the Conservation Response Unit. The animals act as the main attraction of an ecotourism venture. Tourists spend a few days in the jungle, watching the elephants up close, washing them, feeding them and riding them into remote waterfalls and hot springs at the jungle's edge.
With its concrete huts and open-sided cafe, cold-water bucket showers and limited electricity, Tangkahan is at the purist end of ecotourism. More....