I used to work and live in Aceh, Indonesia. There were stories of Tsunami, loss of lives, trying to re-build. Many people were still scared by years of fighting between the local Aceh soldiers and the government forces. But as I was workig there and as the efforts of many NGOs were focusing on the important re-building efforts and people livelihoods, I also saw the perils of the environment, the forests, the tigers, the elephants. I remember how I rode these magnificent elephants with my son, the elephants of Aceh….what a beauty, but for how long?
Aceh’s elephants in peril
Nurhayati, The Jakarta Post, Pidie, Aceh | Sat, 11/19/2011 11:50 AM
Only 540 Sumatran elephants are left in Aceh province.
In 1996 there were around 700, with a dramatic decrease over 15 years (1996 — 2011), according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Center (BSKDA) of Aceh.
The BSKDA has noted that the main threats to these elephants are from hunting for their tusks, conflicts with locals, road and settlement construction and land reclamation for oil palm estates, which has forced elephants to feed closer to residential areas, sometimes leading to their death by poisoning.
Historically, elephants and men have coexisted peacefully in Aceh. In the 16th century, elephants were granted the title of Teungku Rayeuk by Aceh’s forebears – teungku meaning “pious” and rayeuk meaning “large and great”. During the kingdom of Aceh’s heyday, these mighty mammals joined battles as comrades-in-arms.
For the conservation and protection of elephant habitats, the government and several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have trained the mammals in order to tame them, restoring their friendly image among local communities so that they can be protected as rare wildlife rather than destroyed.
The trainings are also useful to help handle human conflicts with undomesticated elephants by herding them back to the forest, and they aid forest rangers in guarding conservation efforts from illegal logging. Elephants have even been taught to become catchers, trainers, entertainers, workers and to perform other tasks as needed.
However, notwithstanding the attempts of the government and NGOs, elephant deaths continue to be recorded in the region. Those that come into conflict with elephants still view them as rats that threaten agriculture, estates and settlements.
It remains to be seen if future generations will have the benefit of seeing the elephants of Sumatra in the flesh, especially if these mammals continue to be subjected to such ordeals.