words by Petah Wirrell  | photos Michelle’s own | oct 27, 2016 |  adventure

Working in an elephant conservation centre is one of the rarest jobs a woman can take up, especially one who is already well established in life with a family. One of our interviewers, Petah Wirrell, met with Michelle to discover the adventures of the animal world.

Currently the world is going through a sixth mass extinction period of species, mainly from humans. Whether it be through political interference, wars, conflict, exploitation of natural resources, poaching, hunting or deforestation, the result is usually long term and sometimes there is irreparable damage to the ecological balance of the region, and a loss of natural habitats.

The archipelago of Indonesia is made of 17,500 islands connecting the Indian Ocean to the pacific, and bridges Asia to Australia. The four main regions are the greater Sunda, the lesser Sundai islands, the Maluka islands, and Irianjaca. They contain terrain that ranges from tropical forests and sunburnt savannah to the snow-capped mountains, including some 400 volcanoes.

Around 132 species are under threat, and the potential for loss to the world and future generations cannot be allowed to continue, with Indonesia leading the world in endemism.

So you may ask, “What can we do?” Well, just ask Michelle.

Michelle grew up in the 80’s. Always a fun and outgoing woman with a positive attitude, she married her first love and had two boys. Her second son was only 2 weeks old when at just 23 years old, she was divorced. She worked hard to maintain her home; when she lost her mother to cancer just two years later, Michelle took on the role of matriarch to her entire extended family. It was a tough feat, but with her hot blooded Maltese heritage and true grit Aussie determination, she raised her sons to be successful adults. She is still employed full time and juggles a hectic social life. She could, if she wanted to, sit back in her free time and enjoy a job well done.

 Not afraid of  discomfort in her travels, Michelle has worked with indigenous Australians from Wudinna  in South Australia to Goulbourn in Queensland in the top end. She travelled and worked in the APY lands, in remote central Australia. Sleeping in swags out in the open, dodging camels and donkeys, she was put to the test more than once – even nearly having a fully grown camel land on the roof of her four wheel drive whilst traversing sand hills. She fully maintains her vehicles, all the while being away from her family and friends because she believes she can make a difference.

For her last holiday, she decided to go on an eco-tour to Indonesia to see the orang-utans and the manta rays. Both are on the endangered list. But it was the Gajah Guardian’s elephant conservation in Sumatra that Michelle was convinced she could definitely help. The first time Michelle came face to face with a full grown elephant she was slightly apprehensive, but only for a moment. After first physical contact she was seated comfortably in its lap. That was it. The connection was made, and with it, a conviction to make a difference.

Back in Australia, it took no time at all before she was recruiting friends and family for a two week reconnaissance visit commencing on August 7th 2016 to explore further and determine exactly just what her and her enthusiastic group of volunteers can do to improve the situation of the 80+ elephants at the Elephant Conservation Centre (ECC), in way  to Kambas National Park, Southern Sumatra. This trip will be a project to provide permanent drinking water troughs for the 70+ elephants that at present have no access to permanent water. With agreement and permission to proceed given by the correct authorities, she works with and has built a rapport with other conservation groups to ensure that all efforts and contributions are directed toward the projects where they can do the most good. Eventually she will open up participation internationally, and hopes to inspire others to get involved in this case.

If you would like to learn more about Michelle’s trip, and the Gajah Sanctuary visit