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We all have stories of unusual first days in new jobs, but imagine starting work as a recruiter at a pulp and paper company and for your first task being asked to source an elephant handler.

This was 35-year-old Henny Sumarlin’s experience over a decade ago, when she joined PT RAPP as a graduate recruitment trainee in 2005. She would never have imagined her first task as a recruiter would be having to recruit a mahout.

Henny recalls thinking that her supervisor was joking initially. “I remember asking myself – what would a pulp and paper company need an elephant keeper for?

“But then my supervisor told me about the Elephant Flying Squad and I said wow, this is a big deal,” Henny says.

Set up in 2005, the Elephant Flying Squad program sees mahouts and their elephants conducting regular patrols for wild elephants, and guiding them away from villages and back into the forests. 

Wild elephants are driven closer to human populated areas when their natural habitat shrinks. 

Currently, APRIL’s camp at Ukui in the Riau province, houses four adult elephants. The company employs nine mahouts to care for the animals, who also receive regular veterinarian visits.

However, the company has cared for the elephants since as far back as 1994, when the Indonesian government turned to the private sector for help in its conservation efforts, creating a regulation which required companies within the forestry and plantation sectors to adopt animals which were in danger of extinction, including elephants. 

When she joined the company, Henny remembers calling a few experienced candidates from the Way Kambas Elephant Conservation Centre based in Lampung, for the mahout job. 

Five mahouts were recruited at the time, she says. 

“I remember them being really passionate when talking about elephants. I was touched when I saw how they were taking care of them. 

“It’s more than just a job, it’s no longer just a job – they have dedicated their lives to treating these elephants like their own children,” Henny says. 

She adds: “Not everyone can do the job, but the mahouts have done it, and still enjoy it. I’m very proud of them.”

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