Elephants take the flag in Indonesia independence ceremony

Aceh Jaya (Indonesia) (AFP) –


A trio of rare elephants led an unusual ceremony in the Sumatran jungle Friday, raising Indonesia's red and white flag to help mark the country's independence day.

Brandishing a flagpole flying the national colours by the trunk, lead elephant Ulu marched outside a conservation office in northern Aceh province as onlookers sung the national anthem.

Flanked by friends Johanna and Isabella, Ulu walked slowly over to a group of handlers to relinquish the flag, which was then solemnly hoisted by officials.

Afterward the elephants paraded around the conservation area, crossing a nearby river and circling parts of the surrounding national park.

?As we can see here, this is also an education for us, that elephants can live side by side with humans," Rizal, an elephant trainer at the conservation office, told AFP.

Sumatran elephants are a critically endangered species and face threats from poaching and rampant deforestation.

At least 11 wild elephants died in Aceh last year, most killed by humans, according to conservation officials.

The environment ministry estimates only around 500 Sumatran elephants remain in Aceh.