The Sumatran elephant, also known as Elephas maximus sumatranus, is native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra. With a global population of only 2,400 to 2,800 Sumatran elephants remaining in the world, they have become a critically endangered species.
The main factors threatening the extinction of Sumatran elephants are interconnected, with rapid deforestation at the forefront. Deforestation has inevitably encroached into elephant habitat in Sumatra, driving this endangered species to live closer to human-populated areas and agricultural lands. Loss of forest cover not only makes Sumatran elephants vulnerable to poaching for the illegal ivory trade, it can also lead to human-elephant conflict that result in the population decline of these animals. While Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) Sinar Mas has made considerable efforts in its commitment to zero-deforestation, there is still more work to be done to protect Sumatran elephants and other wildlife species.
Tackling the Issue of Human-Elephant Conflict
Human-elephant conflict poses a threat to elephants in many parts of Asia, including Indonesia. Despite the fact that elephants are typically gentle creatures, they can turn aggressive if they feel threatened or vulnerable. With climate change impacting the environment in devastating ways – one of which is seen in the decline in fruit crops, a source of food for the herbivorous species – elephants can become more desperate for food and water as what they depend on for survival are threatened by scarcity. Humans and elephants can thus come into conflict around water bodies or farmland as they compete for resources. Due to the severity of the consequences human-elephant conflict has on human lives, property, and the elephant population, the search for ways to resolve this situation has now become more crucial than ever before.
Though approximately 13,000 Asian elephants are maintained under human care, there is still a vast amount of elephant groups in the wild that need protection, especially those living near local communities. At Asia Pulp and Paper, there is a deep emphasis placed on conservation efforts to help humans coexist peacefully with wildlife and it is of utmost importance that strategies used to mitigate human-elephant conflicts are implemented in the best interests of both the people and the endangered species.
Elephant GPS Collar Installations
One proven method of reducing conflict within communities and establishing safety zones for Sumatran elephants is through the installation of GPS collars. They are devices that can be a useful tool in research, conservation and management of endangered species. By studying animal movement and even alerting authorities of dangerous situations, GPS collars can provide enhanced security for both Sumatran elephants and humans. Data collected from the GPS collars allow wildlife researchers to predict where Sumatran elephants are moving to and anticipate potential dangers local communities face.
Asia Pulp and Paper’s Efforts to Mitigate Human-Elephant Conflict
With a strong focus on conservation and sustainability, Asia Pulp and Paper and its partners are working to reduce conflict with Sumatran elephants through a range of techniques.
In order to monitor the movement of Sumatran elephants in the Sugihan Habitat Pocket of Simpang Heran, the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) of South Sumatra has effectively carried out the installation of GPS collars on two wild elephant groups in collaboration with other parties. This served as a part of the efforts to both mitigate conflict and monitor roaming routes, based on scientific studies carried out by Asia Pulp and Paper’s business unit, PT. OKI Pulp and Paper Mills; its supplier partner, PT. BAP (Bumi Andalas Permai); the Association of Forest Animal Networks (PJHS); and the Indonesian Elephant Conservation Forum (FKGI).
The process of installing the GPS Collars has been conducted since April 2022, through the stages of surveying the target elephant groups, preparing the team and equipment, as well as approaching the community and other stakeholders. In May, it was observed that the elephant groups have settled nicely into the Sumatran elephant corridor. The area has become their home range, without any issues with the community or environment within this enclave. The elephant groups also behaved calmly when interacting with humans – given that it is still within a safe distance of at least 40 metres – even with people fishing opposite them. This proves that wild Sumatran elephants and people can peacefully coexist if we humans treat them with respect and sensitivity.
Apart from the successful installation of GPS collars, Asia Pulp and Paper also proactively collaborates with the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) to conserve the environment. Asia Pulp and Paper plays a key role in sustaining the human-elephant co-existence program as well as the development of innovative mitigation techniques between humans and Sumatran elephants that are adaptive outside conservation areas.
As a firm believer in biodiversity conservation efforts, Asia Pulp and Paper is dedicated to continuously changing and evolving the relationship between all wildlife and humans to create a harmonious environment we can all thrive in.