Captive elephants help save wild cousins on forest frontline
LAMPUNG, Indonesia: It was the middle of the night when the villagers sounded the alarm: a huge Sumatran elephant was raiding their rice fields, and they needed urgent help to drive it back to the forest.
Dodot-a veteran Indonesian elephant keeper trained to handle such emergencies-rushed to the scene, fearing villagers would take matters into their own hands if he didn’t get there in time. “It was the king,” Dodot said of the hungry bull male that had strayed from the forest in southeast Sumatra in search of food. “He’s not afraid of humans, or weapons. He owns the territory.”
It was the third such intrusion in a month. Confrontations between elephants and humans can quickly turn violent in Sumatra, where competition for space has intensified as the island’s forests have been rapidly cleared for timber and farming. Nearly 70 percent of the Sumatran elephants habitat has been destroyed in a single generation, says conservation group WWF, driving them into evercloser contact with humans.
Villagers have been trampled and killed by stampeding herds, but it’s the elephants that have suffered most as their habitats have shrunk. In 25 years, half of Sumatra’s wild elephants have been wiped out. The species was upgraded to critically endangered in 2012, with experts blaming the twin drivers of deforestation and conflict with humans.
Ivory poachers have long hunted bulls for their tusks but many elephants are killed simply for trespassing on land. This month an elephant was found dead near a palm oil plantation in the island’s northeast. Authorities believe it accidentally ingested fertilizer but an investigation is continuing, the local conservation head told AFP.
INDONESIA: This photo taken on November 8, 2016 shows a ranger atop a patrol elephant with her calf in Way Kambas National Park, where human settlements border a tranche of lowland forest home to an estimated 250 wild Sumatran elephants.