Banda Aceh. Wildlife activists say three Sumatran elephants were found dead on Wednesday, presumably from pesticide poisoning, a week after stampeding through villages in eastern Aceh.
Bakhtiar, a field officer for the Leuser International Foundation, which manages the Mount Leuser National Park in East Aceh, said the elephants were from a herd of dozens that had run amok in three villages near the park a week earlier.
He said the villagers had been forced to flee, and when they returned on Wednesday, they reported that three adult elephant corpses had been found in one of the villages.
“The residents believe that the elephants died after ransacking the abandoned homes and ingesting pesticide that was stored inside,” Bakhtiar said.
“Elephant stampedes in these three villages — Ketibung Musara, Alue Duren and Kuala Panggo — occur pretty frequently. Every time the elephants come, they eat whatever they can find inside the villagers’ homes.”
He declined to comment on speculation that the villagers may have deliberately poisoned the elephants.
“The villagers said they found them like that,” Bakhtiar said, adding he hoped the authorities would visit the scene soon to determine how exactly the endangered animals had died.
“Hopefully this incident will highlight the human-animal conflict in the area and prompt the authorities to seriously consider a solution to this problem.”
The villagers reported that 20 homes had been destroyed in this latest rampage, and more than 50 people forced to flee, Bakhtiar said.
“They’re fed up with the constant encroachment by this herd of elephants and the lack of a solution from the authorities,” he said.
Abubakar Chekmat, head of the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), said he had sent officials to the villages to confirm the elephants’ deaths. However, he declined to speculate on the possible cause of death.
Abubakar blamed the frequency of the rampages on the clearing of forests in the area to make way for oil palm plantations, which was driving the elephants out of their natural habitat and into human settlements.
“The destruction of their habitat has forced them further afield in search of food, and this is what puts them in direct conflict with villagers in the area,” he said.
Abubakar said his office was addressing the problem by setting up a “conservation response unit” made up of teams of domesticated elephants trained to chase wild elephant herds out of villages and other human settlements.