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Forest Ministry, WWF Launch Human-Elephant Conflict Plan, Call for Immediate Halt to All Natural Forest Clearing in Central Sumatra

Washington - Following the apparent poisoning of a herd of endangered Sumatran elephants last week, the Indonesian Forest Protection and Nature Conservation Agency (PHKA) and World Wildlife Fund, announced plans to immediately begin implementing a protocol to reduce human-elephant conflict in central Sumatra. PHKA also called for an immediate stop to the clearing of all natural forests remaining in Riau Province, site of ongoing human-elephant conflict.

The protocol is a conflict management strategy designed to reduce the number of incidences of human-elephant conflict and minimize damage to people and elephants should an incidence occur.As an immediate first step, PHKA and WWF will assemble a rapid response team of rangers and domesticated elephants to patrol the conflict areas, modeled after WWF's successful "flying squads" used near the new Tesso Nilo National Park.

"The human-elephant conflict mitigation protocol is very important and has to be implemented immediately to address the escalating conflict evident from the recent cases," said Adi Susmianto, director of Biodiversity Conservation at PHKA. "We expect implementation of the protocol to reduce human-elephant conflict cases, avoid death of humans and elephants, and minimize material losses."

Six elephants were found dead last week in an oil palm plantation at the border of Riau and North Sumatra, apparently poisoned. At least 17 elephants (and as many as 51, according to some reports) have repeatedly raided one village in Rau's Bengkalis District. Both cases appear to be a direct effect of forest clearing in Riau's Libo Forest, one of the most important of the few remaining retreats of the Sumatran elephant in Central Sumatra. Libo is rapidly being converted into plantations, fields and settlements, often without the necessary licenses. A multinational paper company, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), uses timber cleared in this forest block for its Riau mills.

"All conversion of natural forests has to stop immediately," said Adi. "Conversion of forest into plantations, fields and settlements and rampant illegal logging are threatening some of the most important habitats of our endangered elephants and tigers."

Both species have run out of places to go. Pursued by plantation managers and villagers, Riau's elephant population has been reduced from an estimated 700 to 350 individuals in the last seven years. An emergency meeting will be held tomorrow to determine how to best contain the herd of 17 elephants, which have destroyed a number of houses and oil palm trees in the past two weeks.

WWF has been working in Riau for six years and helped secure the protection of the last large block of lowland rain forest there, Tesso Nilo, as a national park in 2004. But there are 14 other isolated populations of elephants in Riau living outside areas that are protected from forest conversion and illegal logging.

"The root cause of these severe conflicts between people and animals is the conversion of their habitat into commercial plantations and cropland," said Sybille Klenzendorf, acting director of WWF's Species Program. "The site of one the ongoing raids by the large herd is a dramatic example for what is happening in central Sumatra. Forest cover of the sanctuary was about 40,000 acres when it was declared in 1986. Today, less than 650 acres remain. That's not enough forest to support a viable population of elephants."