A1GP World Cup of Motorsport drivers visited the world famous Kuala Gandah National Elephant Conservation Centre outside Kuala Lumpur this morning, in the lead up to this weekends races at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia.
Drivers from seven nations were given a rare opportunity, thanks to Tourism Malaysia, to ride an elephant in the jungle with the help of an elephant guide, or mahout, and help feed them.
Portugals Filipe Albuquerque, Frances Loc Duval, Indias Armaan Ebrahim, Lebanons Jimmy Auby, New Zealands Chris van der Drift, Indonesias Satrio Hermanto and local Malaysian drivers Fairuz Fauzy and Aaron Lim all had the chance to visit the sanctuary this morning.
Fauzys comment was: It is amazing to see the elephants interact with humans and see them listen to us. Its fantastic for us to experience this, especially as we could feed them bananas. For me, as the host for round three here in Sepang, I am very proud to take part in this and for all the drivers to have lunch and see the traditional show is a great experience.
Chengdu Feature race winner, Albuquerque, said: Its really interesting to see such a big animal so close. I have never been this close to an elephant before and today I got the chance to play with and feed one. At the beginning I was a bit concerned about how it would react, but it was really chilled out and kind, so it was good fun. If you come to places like this you have to experience as much as you possibly can, so if people ever come to Kuala Lumpur they should defiantly come and visit here as its really worthwhile.
Meanwhile Duval was a bit more reticent when he commented: Ive seen elephants at a distance but this was the first time Id been up close. Im still not 100% confident as they are animals so you never know what they may do, because they are huge compared to us. It was a great experience though and we had a good time but I think I prefer to be in my car!
The Department of Wildlife and National Parks established Kuala Gandah Elephant Conservation Centre in the Krau Game Reserve in 1989. The centre is a base for the Elephant Relocation Team, which began the elephant translocation programme in 1974. It is estimated that there are only 1,200 wild Asian Elephants left in Malaysia and this is the only conservation centre set up to provide them a sanctuary in the wild. Since opening, the centre has relocated more than 500 elephants from areas where their habitats were encroached by plantations or other human development, to other suitable habitats throughout Peninsular Malaysia.
This intervention prevents them from being shot by farmers, poached or simply dying of starvation. The team has helped halt the further decline of the Asian elephant population by, alongside relocating healthy adults in the wild, being a base for orphaned or injured elephants. Those needing additional care will stay in the conservation centre until they are old enough to survive in the wild and are therefore released into the Malaysian jungle when they are around 40-years-old. An elephants lifespan is similar to humans, between 60 and 80 years old.
The centre is currently home to 14 elephants, aged between three and 32 years old. The drivers were able to meet five of these today, as the centre strives to educate visitors in the importance of habitat and environmental conservation. The interaction with these gentle giants included feeding two of the youngest members of the centre, Siput, a three-year-old female and Berabung a three-year-old male. The A1GP drivers were able to get up-close to these youngsters as they roamed free under the careful watch of their keepers. All the elephants in the centre are named after the areas from which they were rescued.
The A1GP drivers were also treated to a traditional dance show thanks to Tourism Pahang, while they got the chance to sample some of the local delicacies for lunch before heading back to the circuit to begin the serious business of the race weekend ahead.
A1GP heads to the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia for round three of the 2008/09 season this weekend, 21 - 23 November.