Banda Aceh. The carcasses of three Sumatran elephants believed to have been poisoned were found in Aceh last week, bringing the death toll to five in the last month, an environmentalist has said.
Rabono Wiranata, chairman of the non-governmental organization Fakta, said the carcasses of two elephants, thought to be around four to five years old, were discovered on Thursday on the grounds of a palm oil plantation owned by a state company, PTPN I. The plantation is located near Pante Labu village, in East Aceh district.
The two elephants were found about 10 meters away from each other, while a larger elephant was found in Blang Tualang village, a remote area that shares a border with Pante Labu.
“It’s thought that the elephants died about a week ago from poisoning,” Wiranata said over the weekend. “Bars of soap that had been smeared with poison were found near the carcasses of the two young elephants.”
Wiranata said people smeared soap bars with poison and then stuck them to oil palm trees because elephants like to eat soap. He said the practice was common in East Aceh.
Fakta was notified on Thursday that the three carcasses had been found and immediately traveled to the location, which is about 50 kilometers from Banda Aceh, the provincial capital.
“We only saw the two in Pante Labu village on Thursday. Their 20-centimeter-long ivory tusks were still intact at the time but were gone when we returned on Friday with teams from the East Aceh administration,” Wiranata said.
He added that his team was still working to remove the carcass of the third dead elephant.
Wiranata said he suspected the elephants were being poisoned in several different locations on the plantation because his team had found pamphlets that read “Be careful with poison.”
“It’s strongly believe that the deaths can be connected to one of two possibilities,” he said. “They were either poisoned on purpose by people at PTPN I or by elephant poachers.”
Wiranata added that his concern more dead elephants would be found.
“Residents told me that there were four dead elephants,” he said. “But so far we have only been able to confirm three. We’ve found the bodies of two and the other one was seen by residents and PTPN I employees. Residents claim they’ve seen a few other elephants tottering.”
He said dozens of elephants often entered the plantation area because it used to be their habitat. Fakta, he said, had heard about a herd of elephants that crossed through the plantation a few days earlier.
“There are still more elephants that are likely to have eaten the poison and there is a good chance they will die too,” he said.