Every day, mahouts in Pemerihan in Lampung would take their elephant into the deep jungle in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park to conduct a routine patrol around the resort. The skilled elephant rider and their trained beast would constantly be on guard to spot other wild elephants and shoo them away to prevent them from venturing too near to human settlements or plantations.
Regular patrols are key to prevent possible wild elephant attacks and deadly conflicts with humans living around the park. On average, 50 to 80 conflicts involving humans and Sumatran elephants occur in Pemerihan every year.
Pemerihan is one of 17 sectors — or commonly referred to as resort by park rangers — in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. The resort comprises a protected forest covering an area of around 15,800 hectares. The park itself covers 356,800 hectares of protected forest area, spanning three provinces: Lampung, Bengkulu, and South Sumatra.
In 2017 the park collected deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) samples from wild elephants' excrements in Pemerihan resort and estimated to be 24 females and 7 males elephants were living in the resort.
The government allows residents to plant hard crops like durian or coffee, and tubers, which can grow alongside native plants, inside the national park area to discourage them from destroying the forest. But, the plants also become the source of conflict between the residents and the beasts.
So, to prevent such conflicts, Pemerihan resort established the Elephant Patrol Unit in 2009. At that time, Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park had four patrol elephants from Way Kambas National Park, consisting of three male elephants and one female elephant.
However, considering that the conflict between the elephants and the population was not too extensive, the patrol elephants were returned to Way Kambas.
After conducting a study and evaluation, coupled with the death of a 35-year-old male elephant, which had been a member of the park elephant patrol unit over the past several years, had been found dead with severe wounds found and missing two tusks in 2015, the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park management decided to re-establish an elephant patrol unit in the park.
Last year, the park brought in five patrol elephants from Way Kambas, consisting of four male elephants and one female elephant. The management also recruited five mahouts and five helpers from the local community as an adaptation effort so every conflict can be properly mitigated, fair for elephants and humans, and based on environmental sustainability.
Indonesia's Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) recently revealed that Sumatra's elephant population had continued to decline over the past decade, mainly because of poaching. WCS said Sumatran elephants' population was currently no higher than 1,000, or 69 percent lower than 25 years ago.