Mon, 08 Dec 2003

Dozens of elephants killed in Riau

Haidir Anwar Tanjung, The Jakarta Post, Pekanbaru, Riau

Twenty-six elephants have been killed in Riau province over the last year for a variety of reasons, particularly because their habitat has been shrinking due to development, an NGO activist has said.

"The actual number killed in Riau might be much greater than that because many elephant deaths went unreported," said Harizal Jalil, the director of Tropical, a local non-governmental organization (NGO) here on Saturday.

He expressed concern that many forested areas had been lost to plantation, which had limited the elephants' habitat.

As it shrank, elephants often left their habitat to seek food, and, as a result, contact between humans and elephants became more frequent, he said.

In many cases, the contact turned ugly, and caused the death of the elephants.

He warned that the number of elephants in Sumatra, particularly in Riau province, would continue to diminish if action were not taken by the government to overcome problems faced by the beasts.

In 1993, the elephant population in Sumatra was only 2,800 to 4,800 animals. Some 1,000 of the total lived in an elephant conservation area.

He said that the number could decrease rapidly as the killing of elephants had become more frequent in the last 10 years. In 1996, for example, 12 elephants were found dead in a plantation area in Kuantan Singingi regency, Riau, after they had been poisoned by unidentified parties.

Ramlan Zas, the regent of Rokan Hilir Hulu, Riau, also acknowledged that the shrinking habitat was the main cause of death of elephants.

"As their habitat shrinks, they often attack dwellings, prompting people to kill them," he said on Saturday.

However, human-elephant contact also resulted in the death of humans.

Harizal said that at least five Riau residents had been killed by elephants in 2003. The latest victim was a woman from Rokan Hulu regency, killed by an elephant on Thursday.

Another incident occurred in September, when a married couple were killed after they were attacked by an elephant in Pandan Wangi, Indragiri regency, Riau.

"They were tapping rubber when suddenly they were attacked by an elephant," said Nurcholis Fadli, a human-elephant conflict mitigation officer at the Worldwide Fund for Nature in Riau.

John Kennedy, head of the Riau Natural Resources Conservation Body, said that his institution was seeking the right location to accommodate wild elephants from Riau province.

However, he conceded that relocating them was no easy task, adding that it would be expensive to do so.