Sumatran elephants being harrassed in Aceh (Indonesia)


Syafrizaldi Jpang, Jakarta Post

Date Published
See link for photos. 

Krueng Peusangan, which literally means Peusangan River, a major watershed zone stretching from Central Aceh, Bener Meriah to Biruen regencies, Aceh, constitutes the habitat of Sumatran elephants, but their home is being encroached upon from time to time.

Passing along a big valley, Krueng Peusangan’s strong currents have shattered the rocks in the stream, their fragments blending with other materials on both sides to form sloping banks.
Near the banks are the tracks of Sumatran elephants that have made use of these gently slanting shores to cross the river and continue their hike to forage for food.
Pantan Lah, a hamlet close to Negeri Antara in Bener Meriah regency, has long been known as one of the fords of the elephants. Its shallow stream and less intense flow, coupled with the sloping edges, enables the mammals to cross easily.
Amri Samadi, head of Forest Management Unit (KPH) II, Aceh, said that around this area four people had been killed over the last few years as a result of inevitable conflict between residents and elephants.
“The latest victim was a woman named Husna in Musarapakat village, Pintu Rime Gayo district, Bener Meriah, on Jan. 24,” he said. Her house was attacked and she was flung to her death while carrying her child. Fortunately, the child was saved by falling down under the trees.
The other dead were a victim in Blang Rakal village in the same district in August 2014 and Hasan Basri in Musarapakat village, who was trampled by wild elephants in November 2014.
Amri noted that the elephants involved in those incidents belonged to the same relatively large herd. “Lately, residents managed to count 26 elephants roaming around the scene of Husna’s death,” he said.
A big tree in Pantan Lah, where Krueng Peusangan flows, also bears witness to the presence of wild elephants, as shown by the peeling of several parts of its bark and some traces of rubbing 2.5 meters from the ground, which is the height of the mammals.
The border: A resident walks on the bridge over a trench that was dug to limit the movement of wild elephants in Blang Rakal.
The other traces are the large amounts of elephant excrement found there, mostly dried but some still moist. On shrubbery land, alleyways have been created by wandering elephants, which inevidently leave their tracks on the ground.
In the Jalung transmigration settlement in Pintu Rime Gayo, the dung and passage lanes of elephants are also discovered on roadsides. In this housing complex covering more than 200 hectares, a house was destroyed by a herd of elephants.
“There are about 78 houses in this zone, which was built by the government in 2008, but the complex began to be occupied only around 2011. Today, none of it is inhabited,” Amri revealed.
The occupants of this settlement have returned to their original regions because of the failure of attempts to end the conflict with the elephants. The infrastructure has now become deserted with elephants freely straying and feeding.
“We have to bear the losses, actually. The construction of housing facilities, roads and power networks in the complex may have cost billions of rupiah,” lamented Amri.
The wildlife monitoring coordinator of the Fauna & Flora International Indonesia Program (FFI IP), Donny Gunaryadi, said the human-elephant conflict actually stemmed from the struggle for space.
Elephants, according to Donny, have vast migration areas and will take the same routes they have previously traversed. They may return to their former paths within one to three years. In this way, their original lanes have most likely been changed for other purposes by men.
He referred to an expanse of land down the valley of the fast-flowing Krueng Peusangan. “This valley is most suitable for elephant habitat, with an extensive feeding and playing arena. The transmigration planning may not have considered this factor, forcing the animals to face a new environment and causing the clash,” he said.
Elephants go back to their former foraging areas because they expect to see the food supply already replenished. Besides, they also need minerals, which are mostly found near a river. Donny also mentioned elephants’ big daily feeding capacity allowed by their only two-hour digestion period.
“Lamps may have been used to frighten elephants, but they are quick-learning mammals,” said Donny. They can be scared in the beginning, but after learning about the patterns of the lamps, they will ignore them if they feel no danger is posed.
“In many places, carbide cannons that make loud sounds are no longer effective to drive elephants away. Neither are firecrackers. Herding them by using tame elephants often doesn’t work either when the wild ones possess a stronger charisma than the expellers. A new approach should be sought for conflict regions,” he added.
Donny quoted data issued by the Elephant Forum and the Environment and Forestry Ministry in 2014, saying that only 1,724 Sumatran elephants were living in the wild. “The number can increase or decrease. It will be raised by a policy supporting their survival in their natural habitat through space regulation for human coexistence with them,” he suggested.
Elephants also spread plant seeds quite effectively, creating balance in the growth of forest cover. “The question is, are we supposed to wait until they get extinct first, instead of rescuing them right now?” he queried.
The Peusangan valley with its steep hills is going to witness a new chapter in the human-elephant relationship. The transmigration complex now serving as a museum of nature can still be utilized as the learning process is underway.