The six now in custody were all residents of Teupin Panah village in West Aceh district and were arrested on Saturday for the killing of a male elephant earlier this month, according to Sr. Comr. Gustav Leo, a spokesman for the Aceh Police.
“Upon further questioning of the six suspects, they admitted they had killed three elephants over the past three months for their tusks,” he told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday.
The two other elephants were killed in Blangpidie in Southwest Aceh district and in Seumantok village in West Aceh, he added.
Gustav said the suspects claimed to have killed the elephants by setting up booby traps in which a tripwire tied between trees launched a sharpened wooden stake at the animals, impaling them in the head.
“Once the elephants were dead, they cut off the tusks and sold them to a fence in Kuta Fajar in South Aceh district,” he said, adding that police were still hunting down the others involved in the crime.
Police have seized parts of the traps as evidence.
Gustav said the alleged perpetrators sold the tusks from each elephant killed for Rp 1 million ($87).
The villagers arrested in the case face charges under the 1990 Natural Resources Conservation Law that could see them sentenced to up to 12 years in prison if convicted.
The Sumatran elephant, a critically endangered species, faces mounting threats to its survival from the decimation of Sumatra’s forests to make way for farmland.
Aceh’s forests have largely been left intact as a result of the province’s three-decade isolation during an armed insurgency from which it emerged in 2005, but a new zoning plan being pushed by Governor Zaini Abdullah threatens to clear large swaths of forests that are home to elephants, orangutans, tigers and other endangered species.
In Riau province to the south, elephants are routinely killed, often by farmers and plantation companies after encroaching onto farmland in search of food.
In February, the World Wide Fund for Nature reported that the bodies of seven elephants, likely killed by humans, had been found in Riau’s Tesso Nilo National Park, an ostensibly protected area.
The elephants — a male, a female and five calves — were believed to have died in November of last year, probably after being poisoned, a WWF official said.
The findings brought the total number of elephant deaths in Riau in the 10 months to February to 10, nine of which were believed to have been caused by poisoning.