Three trained elephants named Bunta, Lilik and Midok are being used to drive away their wild cousins that have been rummaging through farms and homes in Seumanah Jaya village, East Aceh regency, Aceh.
The regency administration deployed the three bull elephants from the East Aceh Serbajadi Conservation Response Unit (CRU) and others from the Saree Elephant Training Center (PLG) on Monday after receiving a report that a herd of wild elephants had often been trespassing into human settlements in the area.
The Serbajadi CRU program, a cooperation effort between Flora Fauna International, the forestry office, the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) and the regency administration, was initiated as a way to use trained elephants to stop wild elephants from rampaging through human settlements.
Aceh BKSDA Regional 1 head Dedi Irvansyah said the deployment on Monday was aimed at minimizing elephant rampages that have often occurred in the area over the past decades.
“The ushering efforts we are carrying out are in response and reaction to the demands of residents who are victims of a prolonged human-elephant conflict,” said Dedi.
The efforts are to take place for a week and to be carried out by the Aceh BKSDA together with the East Aceh Forestry and Plantation Office, Leuser Conservation Forum, Wildlife Conservation Society, Directorate General of Law Enforcement on Environment and Forestry, KRPH Peunaron and mahouts from the Serbajadi CRU.
According to the head of the East Aceh Forestry Office, Iskandar, more animals, especially elephants, are coming into conflict with humans because their natural forest habitat in East Aceh is being converted into oil palm plantations.
“Widespread illegal logging and forest conversion have great impact on human-elephant conflicts in Aceh,” said Iskandar.
According to Iskandar, 26 plantation companies have permits to cultivate about 70,000 hectares of oil palms in East Aceh.
The presence of wild elephants on farms and in human settlements has caused public anxiety.
“The presence of feral elephants in our farms has a direct impact on our livelihood as farmers,” said oil palm plantation worker Abu Namin in Seumanah Jaya village.
According to him, elephants often damage farms and homes in the area.
“We’re always overwhelmed with fear when the elephants invade the village, but we cannot do anything except report them to the government,” said Namin.
Based on his experience, Seumanah Jaya residents have been in conflict with wild elephants for decades. He said in the 1990s as many as 60 elephants at a time would invade the village.
“They usually trespass into the village in herds at certain times, but now they come almost every year, although in smaller numbers,” said Namin.
On Nov. 18 last year, a 6-year-old male elephant was found dead on a piece of farmland in Pucok Turue village in Mane district, Pidie regency, allegedly after being poisoned by eating pesticides stored by a farmer in a hut in the middle of the field.
A week earlier, a female elephant was found dead in Seumanah Jaya subdistrict, Ranto Peureulak district, apparently as a result of electrocution.
The current population of Sumatran elephants is estimated to be between 2,400 and 2,800, a 50 percent decline since 2007, when between 3,000 and 5,000 elephants were recorded.