Way Kambas National Park: Habitat of the Sumatran Elephants
Way Kambas National Park forms a lowland forest ecosystem consisting of freshwater swamp forest, tall grassland/bush, and coastal forest.
Located at the southern tip of Sumatra, 110 km from Bandarlampung, the Way Kambas National Park (WKNP) is one of the oldest reserves in Indonesia. It occupies 1,300 sq km of coastal lowland forest around the Way Kambas River on the east coast of the province of Lampung. WKNP is closely associated with elephants, since aside from being a sanctuary for these gentle giants, the national park is also known as their training ground.
Among the plant species in this Park are api-api (Avicennia marina), pidada (Sonneratia sp.), nipah (Nypa fruticans), gelam (Melaleuca leucadendron), salam (Syzygium polyanthum), rawang (Glochidion borneensis), ketapang (Terminalia cattapa), cemara laut (Casuarina equisetifolia), pandan (Pandanus sp.), puspa (Schima wallichii), meranti (Shorea sp.), minyak (Dipterocarpus gracilis), and ramin (Gonystylus bancanus).
The Park has 50 species of mammal including the Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis sumatrensis), Asian elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus), Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus), Asian wild dog (Cuon alpinus sumatrensis), siamang (Hylobates syndactylus syndactylus); 406 species of bird including the storm’s stork (Ciconia stormi), woolly-necked stork (C. episcopus), white-winged wood duck (Cairina scutulata), lesser adjutant stork (Leptoptilos javanicus), crested fireback (Lophura ignita), great argus pheasant (Argusianus argus argus), oriental darter (Anhinga melanogaster); and various species of reptile, amphibian, and fish.
Wild elephants that have been tamed and trained at the “Pusat Latihan Gajah” (Elephant Training Centre) can be ridden, used to transport logs, and to pull ploughs. The centre is located 9 km from the Plang Ijo Gate. At the Elephant Training Centre, visitors can see elephants being trained, playing football, and swimming. The centre was constructed in 1985 and about 290 elephants have so far been tamed and trained there.
Way Kambas was established as a game reserve by the Dutch administration in 1937. Sadly, between 1954 and 1974 it was intensively logged. In 1978, it was proposed as a national park, with provisional declaration in 1989, and final declaration in 1997.
It is believed that approximately 200 Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranensis) live within the park. The Sumatran elephant is one of three recognized subspecies of the Asian Elephant, and native to Sumatra Island. In general, Asian elephants are smaller than those of Africa and have the highest body point on the head. Among the Asian elephants, the Sumatran elephants are the smallest, with a shoulder height ranging between 2 meters and 3.2 meters (6.6 ft. to 10.5 ft). Wild Sumatran elephants were formerly found in eight provinces of Sumatra. However, the dense and tangled vegetation of the tropical rainforests there makes it difficult to estimate their exact number.
Officially established in 1985, the Elephant Training Center, located 9 km from the park’s Plang Ijo entrance, is an establishment aimed to protect the existence of the elephant and at the same time create mutual benefit for both the elephants and men. The training center is also a reminiscent of the time when kings or sultans ruled Sumatra, when elephants were trained and deployed in warfare and also for ceremonial purposes. Here, visitors can observe elephants perform various tasks such as transporting lumber or plowing fields. They can also perform peculiar activities such as playing football or other entertaining performances.
Also operating in the park is the Sumatra Rhino Sanctuary (SRS), where rhinos, formerly held in captivity are introduced to natural surroundings in the hope of successful breeding. The breeding center was established in 1995, and encompasses 100 hectares (247 acres) for propagation, research and education. The five Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis ) living at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary – Rosa, Ratu, Bina, Torgamba, and Andalas – serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts. They also act as specimens for education for local communities and the general public and play a vital part to ensure the continuous existence of their species.
The area around Way Kanan, a sub-district of the park is frequently visited by birdwatchers. Of the most remarkable species are the white-winged ducks and the Storm’s stork.
Other mammals that also inhabit the national park include: the Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae), the tapir (Tapirus indicus), the jungle dogs (Cuon alpinus sumatrensis), and the siamang monkeys (Hylobates syndactylus syndactylus). Among the 406 species of birds are: the Jungle ducks (Cairina scutulata), sandang lawe Herons (Ciconia episcopus stormi), tong-tong Herons (Leptoptilos javanicus), blue sempidan (Lophura ignita), kuau (Argusianus argus argus), and pecuk ular (Anhinga melanogaster). There are also numerous reptiles, fish, and insects within the sanctuary of WKNP.
WKNP is also home for many exotic floras. Among them are: api-api (Avicennia marina), pidada (Sonneratia sp.), nipah(Nypa fruticans), gelam (Melaleuca leucadendron), salam (Syzygium polyanthum), rawang (Glochidion borneensis),ketapang (Terminalia cattapa), cemara laut (Casuarina equisetifolia), pandan (Pandanus sp.), puspa (Schima wallichii),meranti (Shorea sp.), minyak (Dipterocarpus gracilis), and ramin (Gonystylus bancanus).
At the Elephant Training Centre (ETC), there are elephant attractions every afternoon with the special elephant football exhibition match held every weekend. Elephant rides are great fun with longer ‘safari’ rides available, where with a little bit of luck you may come across wild elephants. The ETC visitor centre deals with aspects of elephant training, while the centre at Plang Ijo is designed to inform about the park, its wildlife, and conservations issues.
For the average visitors not engaged in wild life conservation, a visit to the park is a nice break from the concrete confines of bustling city life. Guided treks are available around Way Kanan, but you should not attempt to enter the forest without a guard as it is dangerous and you can easily get lost.
Out-board motorboats and driver can be hired for trips to the coast, with shorter journeys available and priced accordingly. If you want to potter around, a sampan (paddle boat) is available for hire. This quieter mode of transport may be more suitable for seeing wildlife.
Interesting locations and attractions:
Pusat Latihan Gajah Karangsari: elephant training centre.
Way Kambas: camping.
Way Kanan: research on Sumatran tigers and Sumatran rhinoceros breeding. Facilities for researchers include a nature lab and accomodation.
Rawa Kali Biru, Rawa Gajah and Kuala Kambas: kayaking/canoeing along the Way Kanan river, observing animals (wild duck, herons, deer, migrant birds), grasslands and mangroves.
Cultural attractions outside the Park: the Krakatau Festival, held in Bandar Lampung each July.
- From Bandar Lampung to Metro to Way Jepara; about 2 hours by car (112 km);
- From Branti to Metro-Way Jepara; about 1.5 hours (100 km);
- From Bakauheni to Panjang to Sribawono to Labuan Meringgai toWay Kambas; about 2 hours.
We can use public transport, the simplest route is taking a bus from Rajabasa Terminal in Bandar Lampung in the direction of Way Jepara. Get off at the stone elephant at Rajabasa Lama Village, Way Jepara, and resume by an “Ojek” (motorbike taxi) ride to the Way Kanan or the Elephant Training Centre (ETC), which is the entrance to WKNP. Keep in mind that the last direct bus back to Rajabasa Lama returns at 15.00 hrs Western Indonesia Time, and it is best if you arrive before dusk, since the “Ojek” driver won’t drive you there after this time. The whole trip would take approximately around 2-3 hours. Alternatively, from Bandar Lampung, you can catch a bus to Metro and subsequently another bus to Rajabasa Lama which also last around 2-3 hours.
If you happen to use or rent a car, from Bandar Lampung take the Kota Bumi Road northward and just follow the serial elephant signs that will easily take you to WKNP. It is possible to hire a taxi from Bandar Lampung to Way Kambas but it is considerably more expensive. From Bandarlampung to east Lampung district, the roads are relatively in good condition. However, as you enter Sukadana area the trip will get a little bumpy since some parts of the road are in poor condition. From Way Jepara market to the entrance of WKNP the poorly condition road last for about 5 Km.
Best time of year to visit: July to September.
Temperature: 28° – 37° C
Rainfall: 2,500 – 3,000 mm/year
Altitude: 0 – 60 m asl.
Geographical location: 106°32′ – 106°52′ E; 4°3’7′ – 5°15′ S
Source: Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Republic Indonesia, and The Ministry of Forestry