Adj. Sr. Comr. Faisal Rivai, the police chief in West Aceh district, said on Wednesday that the latest suspects were arrested on Tuesday in separate locations based on information from the six already in custody since Saturday.
He said the suspects, accused of killing a male elephant earlier this month, claimed they were not after the tusks initially.
“They confessed to killing the elephant because a herd of elephants had been destroying their crops,” Faisal told the Jakarta Globe.
He said it was only after the elephant was killed that they hacked off its tusks and sold it to a fence in Southwest Aceh district. Faisal said police had identified the suspected fence and were now looking for him.
Police on Tuesday announced that they had arrested six residents of Teupin Panah village in West Aceh for their alleged roles in killing the male elephant and two others, in Blangpidie in Southwest Aceh district and in Seumantok village in West Aceh.
They are accused of setting up booby traps to kill the endangered animals, then selling their tusks to the fence in Southwest Aceh.
One of those arrested on Tuesday, Hamdani, told reporters at the West Aceh Police headquarters that the ivory was not their main motivation for killing the elephant.
“Lots of residents have lost their crops to the herd of elephants. We’ve reported it many times to the authorities, but there’s never been any attempt to shoo away the elephants,” he said.
Police have charged all 12 suspects under the 1990 Natural Resources Conservation Law that could see them sentenced to up to 12 years in prison if convicted.
Genman Suhefti Hasibuan, the head of the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency, or BKSDA, welcomed the arrest of the suspected poachers but warned of the potential for even more human-elephant conflicts in the province as the animals’ habitat was cleared for farmland.
“There needs to be a concerted effort from all sides — from the local authorities, the BKSDA and the residents — to resolve these human-elephant conflicts,” he told the Globe. “If we don’t do that, the conflicts will keep happening.”
Genman said his agency had recorded 20 incidents of elephants encroaching onto farms or villages in Aceh in the past three months, multiple times in some places.