Fidelis E. Satriastanti
The Forestry Ministry is investigating the series of 12 elephant deaths in Sumatra since March, according to Novianto Bambang, the ministry’s director for conservation and biodiversity.
“Our strong suspicion is that those elephants that died in East Aceh and the Tesso Nilo National Park [in Riau] were poisoned, but we do not yet know what the motive could be,” Novianto said on Wednesday.
He said that a team had been deployed to Aceh and Riau to investigate the deaths.
“So far, we still have to await the results of a forensic laboratory examination in Medan in relation to the type of toxin, study the feces and what other things they carried,” he said.
The statement came as a report of another elephant found dead in Riau came from Petani village in Mandau, Bengkalis. Local villagers said the carcass, without its tusks, was found already in an advanced stage of decomposition on Wednesday.
Novianto cautioned that even though the tusks of the dead elephants were missing, it did not necessarily mean that the killings were for the ivory.
“It can also be that the tusk are cut intentionally to create the image that they were done by elephant tusk hunters, or they were poisoned because they are considered pests. It is not certain that they were killed for their tusks only,” he said.
Regarding the dead elephants in Riau’s Tesso Nilo National Park, Novianto said not all elephants were inside the conservation area and that it was very difficult with the limited human resources available to supervise about 30,000 hectares to make sure that no elephants were killed.
In Aceh alone, five elephants were found dead between March and June — two in Aceh Jaya in March and May and three in East Aceh on June 2. In Riau, seven elephants were found dead in the Tesso Nilo forests between March and June.
The number of Sumatran elephants in the wild has dropped dramatically in the past four years. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has said the species is now “critically endangered,” or one step away from extinction.
There are an estimated 2,400 to 2,800 elephants remaining in the wild, down from the 3,000 to 5,000 reported in 2007.