Elephants help National Park, rare tigers, rhinos and the rest!

By Dave Armstrong - 12 Dec 2016 11:5:0 GMT
Elephants help National Park, rare tigers, rhinos and the rest!

The Sumatran elephant is critically endangered, with a limited lifespan for the small remaining populations that only flourish in small herds. They live under protection in National Parks, but are still threatened by encroachment.Sumatran forests hold great surprises; Credit: © naturepl.com/Nick Garbutt/WWF

The Kambas National Park in earthquake-ridden Aceh (Sumatra, in Indonesia) has been enjoying its position as only the 36th ASEAN Heritage Park. With captive elephants now gainfully employed in herding rogue males back into the limited forest areas, human cooperation seems likely to increase the conservation efforts in the area.

Important though the critically-endangered Elephas maximus sumatrensis are, the orang utan and rhino, the small Sumatran tiger and thousands of other species are also endangered by deforestation and the associated encroachment and infrastructure. With government attitudes to palm oil plantations heavily suspect, even this small area of remaining primary forests is liable to be lost. Singapore-based Temasek and the associated agribusiness corporation Olam are the main culprits in avoiding legislation, both in Indonesia and even as far away as Africa (Gabon.) This is the only site where endemic, semi-wild Dicerorhinus sumatrensis (the Sumatran rhino) can be bred, with another birth last May.

As far as the critically- endangered elephants are concerned, many of the captive animals throughout Asia are jobless, so finding a niche in looking after their wild co-specifics is quite a neat solution. Unfortunately, the trauma of removing baby elephants from their wild mothers has always been criticised and leads to much of the danger humans face from the Asian species. Their memories are long! The current news via Lampung was the escort from a village of a large bull from the estimated population of 250. Herds are easier to track by the patrolling elephants and their mahouts. They only started working last year but have already reduced villager/elephant clashes by 80%. Undisturbed harvests have been taken and ivory poachers have also been bamboozled by vigilant conservationists. The cost so far has been the sad loss of a patrol elephant who was attacked and killed for its own ivory. The use of drones in future may have to be used alongside military action against heavily armed poachers.

There are still the other species in the precious remaining larger stretches and corridors of rainforest. Several years ago we managed to estimate 679 Sumatran tigers (Panther tigris sumatrae) remaining in the wild on the gigantic island. How that has changed depends on the same protectors as the elephants. The same Chinese influences operate on tiger parts as for the ivory. China itself has already tried to cooperate with the tiger problem as well as some of the ivory shipped. More action against the actual smugglers will prevent their operations more securely, but this more an international war than a civil response by volunteers.

We can but hope that the local effects of villagers and tame elephants can preserve not only those free herds of rare elephant, but also the rest of their community in the habitat – one of the last remaining rainforests of its type in the world. We seem to be losing part of Leuser National Park, just nearby. That in itself is yet another terrible tragedy on the road to total loss of these irreplaceable resources.