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Indonesian Government Ignores Own Rules, Places Endangered Elephants in Peril

WWF researchers have discovered that ten endangered wild Sumatran elephants are being kept chained to trees without enough food or water in the Riau Province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in violation of an agreement the government signed in 2004 known as the Riau Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation Protocol. The elephants have been made homeless by the destruction of the forest they inhabited. Government authorities captured the elephants ten days ago after they raided crops and terrorized residents of a nearby village.

"In order to keep elephants from damaging property and raiding crops they must have space to live," said Sybille Klenzendorf, lead biologist of WWF's Species Conservation Program. "This means immediately halting the destruction of Riau's forest habitat by loggers and developers of oil palm plantations."

The ten elephants are part of a herd of between 17 and 51 in the Bengkalis District of Riau Province. The Riau government said it wanted to capture and translocate all of the homeless elephants to the newly designated Tesso Nilo National Park in the center of the province. Currently, only about 94,000 acres of the Tesso Nilo National Park have been protected out of a proposed 247,000 acres. The entire area must be protected before it can be considered as a feasible location for the captured elephants, Klenzendorf said.

"What we are seeing here is the result of inaction and ineptitude," said Nazir Foead, Head of WWF-Indonesia's Species Program. "The local government has not implemented the Riau Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation Protocol agreed upon in 2004, nor has it committed to stop zoning elephant forest habitat for conversion. Illegal logging and encroachment is even rife in those areas that are officially protected."

Another six elephants were recently found dead in an oil palm plantation in Bengkalis District, apparently poisoned in retaliation for raiding crops. Faced with rapidly shrinking habitat and continual conflict with local people, Riau's elephant population has been reduced from an estimated 700 to 350 individuals in the last seven years.

These cases of human-elephant conflict appear to be a direct result of forest clearing in Riau's Libo Forest, one 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. The Balai Raja Wildlife Sanctuary, within the Libo forest block, contained about 39,000 acres of forest when it was declared in 1986. Today, only about 650 acres of forest cover remain. A multinational paper company, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), uses timber cleared in Libo for its Riau mills.

WWF is urging the Riau government to immediately stop all illegal logging, encroachment into the forest by settlers and conversion of forest in Riau to oil palm and pulp plantations. WWF is also calling on Riau authorities to provide immediate food, water and medical treatment to the ten elephants in their custody and immediately implement the Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation Protocol agreed upon in 2004.

"Riau authorities do not have a professional team to provide proper care to the elephants," continued Foead. "A new, more competent team, for example from Lampung, in southern Sumatra, should be brought in. We are ready to help them."