Riau, Central Sumatra, Indonesia – Four adult elephants and two calves from WWF-Indonesia’s Elephant Flying Squad gathered on Saturday October 24, 2009, in Riau Province to carry banners calling for urgent protection of the remaining forests of Sumatra. Riau has one of the fastest deforestation rates in the world, threatening some of the most endangered species on the planet, including Sumatran elephants and tigers.
The action took place as part of a day of climate change activism around the world. The elephants and mahouts of the WWF Flying Squad joined more than 4,300 communities in over 170 countries to urge world leaders to take bold and immediate steps to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions when the world’s nations convene in Copenhagen in December to draw up a new climate treaty.
“The forests of Sumatra are critical to the future of elephants, other wildlife and people -- and saving them could play a major role in slowing global climate change,” said Fitrian Ardiansyah, director of the climate change and energy program for WWF-Indonesia. “Forests are hugely effective storehouses for carbon and Sumatra’s deep peat swamps and forests in particular hold vast amounts of carbon.”
Sumatra, the world’s sixth-largest island, is the only place on Earth where tigers, elephants, orangutans and rhinos co-exist.
WWF-Indonesia’s event was held in a lowland forest area cleared for illegal palm oil and pulp and paper plantations in Riau, Central Sumatra. The forest loss and degradation, along with peat decomposition and forest fires from this one province alone are responsible for annual carbon emissions equivalent to 122 percent of the Netherlands' total annual emissions on average
“Carbon emissions are a major driver of climate change, and these peat forests sit on such deep carbon reserves that saving them from deforestation would measurably reduce global carbon emissions,” Ardiansyah said.
The Elephant Flying Squad patrols communities on the outskirts of Tesso Nilo National Park and drives off wild elephants that stray outside the park and raid community crops. Human-elephant conflict is a serious problem across Sumatra as forests are rapidly cleared and elephants that have lost habitat are forced into closer contact with people.
The four adult elephants in the squad are formerly wild elephants that had been captured by the government as “conflict elephants”; WWF and the Tesso Nilo park authority now employ them, along with eight mahouts, to try spare their wild brethren from similar captures by driving the park’s elephants back to forested areas when they stray.
The Tesso Nilo landscape and the forests of the whole island of Sumatra are a global priority for WWF, which works to protect the elephants, tigers, orangutans and rhinos here by preserving the forests. WWF also works with the Indonesian government and the pulp & paper and palm oil industries – the biggest contributors to forest loss in central Sumatra – to identify and set aside high conservation value forests and implement ecosystem-based land-use planning across the island.