A palm oil plantation worker in Riau was trampled to death by a wild elephant on Saturday, highlighting severe human and wildlife conflicts in the province.
The incident occurred when Waklung, 52, encountered a herd of wild elephants passing by his home in Koto Pait hamlet in Tasik Serai village, Pinggir district, Bengkalis regency, around 8 p.m. local time on Saturday.
“The plantation belongs to Tewin, a resident of Tasik Serai village. Waklung guarded the plantation alone,” Mandau Nature Lover Youth Association (HIPPAM) head Zul Husni Syukri told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
He said the incident occurred around an hour after Koto Pait villagers chased away a herd of some 30 wild elephants that had entered a villager’s oil palm plantation.
“All locals in the village have oil palm plantations. They have always stood shoulder to shoulder to chase away wild elephants found to have entered their plantations,” said the local Bengkalis NGO leader.
Unexpectedly, the wild elephants charged the plantation guarded by Waklung. “The villagers thought that Waklung was out. They didn’t know he was resting in his hut,” said Zul.
After night fell, he said villagers were shocked to hear a loud scream emanating from Tewin’s plantation. “They approached the plantation and found Waklung already dead,” said Zul.
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia for Riau program spokesman Syamsidar suspected that the herd came from the Balai Raja Nature Reserve in Mandau district, Bengkalis.
“The Duri west ring road construction project has blocked their path to Mandau. As there were so many construction workers there, the wild elephants were unable to return back to their habitat in Balai Raja and instead, they were trapped in the villagers’ plantations,” she said.
Syamsidar said WWF and other environment organizations had urged the local administration to reconsider the ongoing construction project, due to its interference with the natural habitat of the elephants.
“The project has cut the natural tracking path of the wild elephants. As a result, the potential for human and wildlife conflict has continued to grow,” said Syamsidar.
She also urged the government to rehabilitate the Balai Raja Nature Reserve, which has been damaged by land conversion for oil palm plantations.
According to WWF data, excessive land conversion has reduced forests in Balai Raja Nature Reserve to only around 150 hectares from 18,000 hectares.
“We are very regretful that some parts of Balai Raja Nature Reserve forests have been converted into oil palm plantations. This is because the conservation area has the second-highest population of wild elephants in Riau, reaching 35 individual animals,” said Syamsidar, adding depleted food resources had led the elephants to enter resident plantations.