Mon, 03 Oct 1994

Elephant problem is human problem: Forestry official

By T. Simawati Gunawan

PEKANBARU, Riau (JP): A senior official of the Forestry Ministry is calling for a coordinated effort by government agencies and private institutions to contain the problems of recurrent raids on villages in Sumatra by wild elephants.

"The elephant problem is not the problem of the elephants," said Widodo S. Ramono of the Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation.

"It is the problem of human beings, and we have to work together to solve it," Widodo said on Thursday during a meeting with officials from the provincial forestry office and the environmental agency of the Riau provincial government.

The recurrent attacks by wild elephants on rubber and palm oil plantations in Riau has racked up total material losses amounting to Rp 14.3 billion ($6.9 million). This amount excludes the material losses inflicted on villagers.

Widodo said that unless an integrated action is taken, the marauding elephants would cause greater losses, possibly even injure humans.

The meeting was held following a trip to several plantation estates and a transmigration location which had been stormed by the elephants.

Widodo said the government, too, should consider the ecological aspects in its decision to set areas for transmigration, agriculture, mining or other activities.

He said there must be a change in the government's policy to enable the implementation of the sustainable development principles.

"We should consider not only the economic benefits but the ecological benefit as well. Development should be advantageous for the people, not for the conglomerates," he said.


He said there are two practical alternatives in dealing with the wild elephants now roaming outside their natural habitat: simply rounding them up or herding them to designated national parks by placing corridor barriers along the way.

Samuel Panggabean, head of the Riau Office for Conservation of Natural Resources, said several plantation estate companies have agreed to lend a hand in the efforts to cope with the elephant problems. But others refused as the elephants were not rampaging their plantations.

In the past four years about 200 elephants which roamed outside their habitats attacked more than 11,800 hectares of rubber and palm oil plantations in Riau, according to Suparto Broto from the plantation agency of the forestry office.

The elephants also stormed villages and fields in transmigration sites, but there were no records of financial losses suffered by the people.

Ratman Tasmin, who represented the provincial forestry office, told the meeting that there had been no casualties in any of the elephant raids.

A local newspaper earlier reported that a farmer was killed by a stampede of elephants which raided his field last week but the report was never officially confirmed.

Besides Riau, Bengkulu and Lampung in southern Sumatra, and Aceh have reported similar problems in dealing with elephants and some of the raids have been fatal.

Official figures said that 14 people have been killed during such raids in the last five years.

Riau is home to some 1,600 elephants. Two hundred of them are straying outside their designated habitats.

Officials said the size of Sumatra elephant population continues to increase but their natural habitat has been shrinking because more and more land and forest is being converted for residential or commercial purposes.