Sumatran Elephants Still Face Imminent Threats

The Leuser Ecosystem stretches over 13 districts in Aceh and three in North Sumatra. The area contains an unknown numbers of invertebrates and plants, as well as tigers, orangutans, rhinos and elephants. (AFP Photo/Chaideer Mahyuddin).

By : Jakarta Globe | on 10:49 AM August 15, 2013
Category : Archive

Listed as critically endangered, there are fewer than 3,000 Sumatran elephants remaining in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (AFP Photo/Chaideer Mahyuddin). Listed as critically endangered, there are fewer than 3,000 Sumatran elephants remaining in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (AFP Photo/Chaideer Mahyuddin).

The brutal killing of Geng, a male Sumatran elephant, is still fresh in my mind. The case made this year’s World Elephant Day relevant to address many threats clouding the existence of this species in Indonesia.

Last month, the country was shocked over the killing of the 22-year-old male Sumatran elephant in Rantau Sabon village, in Aceh Jaya district. Geng was found in a very devastated condition with its trunk cut off, eyes chopped off, head badly damaged, and missing tusks. There were spears marks in its skull prodding for intended slaughtering of people wanted its tusks.

It did not take long for the case to spark attention – if not anger – from activists and animal lovers, through social media, pushing the Indonesian government to investigate and arrests whoever responsible for the killing.

The case received special attentions from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan who reacted through their personal Twitter accounts. President Yudhoyono slammed the killing as an "irresponsible action" during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and instructed officials to arrest the culprit. He also hoped it will not happen again in the future.

Zulkifli, meanwhile, put out a much more encouraging statement on his Twitter account promising that they would get people behind the killing within a week.

In the latest development, Zulkifli indicated that village officials were allegedly involved in the killing. The case is still now being handled by the Forestry Ministry and Riau police.

In December 2011, Sumatran elephants, one of Asian elephants found in Indonesia beside the Borneo pygmy elephant, are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

Based on the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), there were 2,400 to 4,800 Sumatran elephants found in the island back in 1985. However, due to extensive land use changes to plantations, deforestation and massive demands for its tusks, the Sumatran elephant population had dropped 80 percent within 25 years.

In 2008, Riau is left with only 350 elephants — declining from 1985's number of 1,600. Lampung has only 675 elephants; 495 in Bukit Barisan Selatan and 180 in Way Kambas National Park. The elephants are nowhere to be found in West Sumatra.

Due to rapid growth of oil plantations in Sumatra, the elephants' habitat has been degrading since the year 2000. The plantation has also triggered man and animal conflicts resulting in hundreds of elephants killed as they were regarded as pests.

In the past two months, four elephants were killed in Aceh with similar method where all of them lost their ivories. Activists and NGOs voiced out their concerns over the reality and pushing for governments to deal with these killings.

The Borneo pygmy elephant encounters similar situation. The species has to risk facing extinction as their habitat changes into plantations.

Unlike the Sumatran elephant which still can be found in several areas, the Borneo pygmy elephant can only be found in the eastern part of Kalimantan island; to be more precise, in Tulin Onsoi subdistrict, Nunukan district, North Kalimantan.

Based on WWF-Indonesia and the East Kalimantan Nature Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) research between 2007 to 2012, there are only 20 to 80 Borneo pygmy elephants left in the wild.

Obviously, time is running out for these elephants. There has been efforts to protect them, which include the declaration of 38,576 hectares land as Teso Nilo National Park in Riau by the ministry of forestry in 2004. The Ministry has also taken a further step by announcing Riau as the Sumatran Elephant Conservation Center in 2006. The action was considered as a big move for the species' conservation.

Furthermore, WWF initiated the Elephant Patrol Flying Squad team in 2004 with its objective to redirect wild elephants from plantations or housing to their original habitat.

Meanwhile, in Kalimantan, Nunukan government and WWF-Indonesia formed an elephant mitigation task force comprise of 11 villages of the Tulin Onsoi which its aim is to prevent and mitigate on elephant conflicts.

This year's commemoration of World Elephant Day on August 12 is a strong reminder for Indonesia to keep on protecting its "umbrella species". This includes protecting the forests and elephant's habitat. As much as positive efforts have been done, strong and strict regulation enforcement with the combination of political are still needed to save the elephants. Dubbed as "umbrella species", elephant holds a crucial part in the environment and ecosystem. Its ability and wide range of movement helps to regenerate plants, in addition that protecting the species and its habitat consequently means to protect other species in its range.

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