Baby elephant and his mother at Sarah Deu conservation response unit in Sampoiniet. (Photo: AFP Photo/Chaideer Mahyuddin)

Seems like the salvation of people and wild elephants is solely in activists’ hands.

Retno Wulandari   08 April 2017 22:39 - Soon after the long, bloody conflict in Aceh ended in on August 15, 2001, another conflict has started to emerge in the province, this time not between humans. The conflict was, in fact, triggered by the massive land clearing and opening for new plantations. It’s a conflict between human and wild elephants.

Tens of thousands hectares of forests inhabited by many protected wild species have turned into vast palm plantations, areca nut plantations, and other crops. According to data from Aceh Forest, Nature and Environment Foundation (HAKA), from 2006 to 2013, the average damage to forests in Aceh has reached a staggering 32,000 hectares every year. It’s a nightmare for wildlife habitats in the area, including for Sumatran elephants’.

According to Mongabay reports, since 2005, conflict between elephants and human has continued to heat up. People opened their farms on elephant’s ancient migration routes, created many opportunities for bloody conflicts between the two species. People were killed, and they retaliated to elephants by killing them, either using deadly poison or traps. Even worse, some irresponsible individuals started to kill elephants for their tusks.

As we may know, Sumatran elephants have been classified as critically endangered, and roughly 80 percent of its population was lost in the last 75 years. We need to do something about this, and that’s apparently what the local government thought.

Joined forces with Aceh’s Provincial Forestry Office, Conservation and Natural Resources (BKSDA), and Fauna and Flora International (FFI), the government of Aceh formed an alliance called the Conservation Response Unit (CRU) in 2009, which duties are separating humans and elephants, and make the animal “busy” to keep them from entering plantations and damaging people’s crops.

The first and only CRU bastion is in Ie Jeureungeh Village in Sampoiniet, in the District of Aceh Jaya. In addition to the fact that the district have been struggling to handle conflicts between humans and elephants, the government also had created a facility to accommodate tamed elephants, mahouts (elephant trainers) and rangers.

CRU’s daily task is herding the elephants to prevent them entering plantations and residential areas. Mahouts and rangers did daily patrols through Sampoiniet forests’ and sometimes encountered dangerous stuff such as enraged wild elephants or armed, aggressive illegal hunters. They assisted the authorities in controlling such hunters. In a nutshell, this task force had initially gained success.

But then in 2012, the situation began to change. A wild elephant had found dead, murdered, in Sampoiniet. This event had sparked conflicts between CRU and the locals.

CRU activities were stopped, and conflicts between human and elephant resurfaced. People can’t work on their crops, because the team who herded elephants have gone. Eventually, the government restored the CRU in Sampoiniet, and four tamed elephants are placed once again along wild elephants’ routes. They even have installed GPS collars on wild elephants to monitor them.

But all of these things make me start to think, is placing the CRU is really a solution?

Baby elephant and his mother in Sampoiniet. (Photo: AFP Photo/Chaideer Mahyuddin)

FFI activist and former CRU coordinator Fendra revealed that conflicts between human and these enormous animals were often triggered by human behavior.

“The locals’ habits in farming had invited wild elephants to their lands and residential areas. They cleared the land uncontrollably further into the forest, so the conflict between them and elephants were intensified and inevitable. Such things have continued to happen since 1998,” he told Media Indonesia.

BKSDA has planned to create a sanctuary for the elephants. They will be localized in their own habitat, and the area will be the gate separating the forest with the conservation area. But before they take the first step to embody the idea, there are much homework to do and one of them is preserving elephants’ natural habitat.

Meanwhile, Sumatran elephants’ habitat continues to shrink, because they don’t live in thick highland forests. They live in the lowlands, where people continue to flock into.

I believe that those who involved in CRU have done many amazing jobs to keep elephants and the locals safe. They’ve achieved so much. But well, I’m no expert, yet in my common perspective, if people continue to cut down forests to clear new lands, we will never get through the conflict between human and those gentle giants.


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