Cap­tive ele­phants help save wild cousins on for­est front­line

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

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.

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