The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has reported that an increasing number of Sumatran elephants (Elephas Maximus Sumatranus) are dying every year causing their population to plunge to the lowest levels since the 1980s.
The Program Coordinator of Tiger and Elephant Species from WWF in Indonesia, Sunarto, said here on Tuesday that the elephant population had declined from 1,342 in 1985 to only 210 in 2007.
“People think that the elephant is their enemy. One of the websites of a palm oil plantation had even put elephants in the same category as caterpillars and other pests,” he added.
WWF reported 27 cases of elephant deaths last year, comprising of 15 deaths in Riau Province, one of the province with that has the largest palm oil plantations, and 12 deaths in Aceh in which the latest elephant dead was suspected to have been poisoned.
“The elephants` habitat has declined over the years. Therefore, only a few of them are left in what remains of the deep forests of Sumatra,” Sunarto explained.
“The decline is mainly due to palm oil plantation companies that are increasingly encroaching upon the elephants` natural habitat forcing the elephants to feed on young palm trees,” he continued.
“This has made the animal to be an enemy of the palm oil industry and the plantation people do everything from shooing them away by bursting firecrackers to even using poison to keep the elephants away,” Sunarto said.
He noted that the conflict between elephants and palm oil industries are not a recent development. However, it becoming worse over time as more forest land converted into palm oil plantation. The elephant killed by suspicious activities even surpasses illegal hunting even though this is still a big problem.
“The WWF has also reported about the systematic illegal hunting of elephants, which has led to an increasing number of elephant deaths in the region,” Sunarto pointed out.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is upgrading the endangered species status of Sumatra elephant from precarious to critical which is only one step away from extinct. This is the worst condition compared to the other elephant sub species which inhibit Asia and Africa.