Indonesian Elephant Is Latest Loser in Battle With Villagers

Indonesian Elephant Is Latest Loser in Battle With Villagers
By Resty Woro Yuniar, Wall Street Journal
July 17, 2013

The endangered Sumatran elephant found dead in the province of Aceh over the weekend was probably trapped and mutilated by locals looking to protect their crops, authorities said.

The death of the adult male – who was named “Geng” or gangster by villagers – was the latest in a string of attacks on Indonesia’s dwindling population of elephants.

“When we found the carcass, its head was damaged, its tusks and eyes were removed and its trunk was separated from the body,” said Nurjannah Husien, an Aceh-based activist who started a small local organization to protect Sumatran elephants. “I don’t know how people could be that cruel.”

Geng was found dead on July 13 in Rantau Sabon Village, in Aceh’s district Sampoinet.

Geng was likely killed by a spear-trap that was set by residents and died early Saturday morning, said Ms. Husien. On Friday night a government conservation team had tried to lure Geng away from local farms and encourage him to return to the jungle. They lost track of him around midnight Friday then found his mangled body Saturday morning.

Animal activists demanded government officials investigate the case and charge the perpetrators. It is illegal in Indonesia to kill or hunt protected animals. If anyone is found guilty of killing Geng they would face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 100 million rupiah, or about $10,000.

“We were shocked by the horribly violent death of the elephant in Aceh,” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in his Twitter account on Monday. “The Forest Ministry and Aceh police are now conducting an investigation. I have instructed the authorities to prosecute the perpetrators and preventing this from happening again.”

The country’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency and the Special Crime Unit of Aceh Police are questioning the head of Rantau Sabon village and looking for other leads on the case, said Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan.

“I truly condemn this cruel crime,” Mr. Hasan said through his Twitter account. “We hope to catch the perpetrator within a week.”

Geng is the fourth Sumatran elephant that authorities suspect was killed by residents so far this year in Aceh. A total of 12 Sumatran elephants were killed, usually by poison, in Indonesia’s western-most province last year.

World Wildlife Fund estimates there are only 2,400 to 2,800 Sumatran elephants left in the wild. That number is down from 3,000 to 5,000 in 2007. The International Union for Conservation of Nature downgraded the Sumatran elephant subspecies to “critically endangered” in 2011. The elephant’s population has declined by more than 80% in the last 75 years.

Sumatran elephants are increasingly clashing with humans as forest clearing to make way for new farms and plantations shrinks the size of the jungles where the elephants roam.

While male Sumatran elephants rarely develop long tusks, poaching has also long been a big threat for the animal. Its tusks can sell for up to 2.5 million rupiah, or $250, per kilogram. A tusk of a fully-grown elephant can weigh up to 30 kilograms.

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