Elephants in Riau to be fitted with GPS to prevent conflict with humans that built palm oil plantations on their territory

Elephant with GPS tracker collar at Gabon Loango National Park. Photo: Kurt Dundy via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)
Elephant with GPS tracker collar at Gabon Loango National Park. Photo: Kurt Dundy via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

The relentless growth of palm oil plantations in Indonesia has led to massive deforestation, the death and displacement of countless endangered species, as well as conflicts between humans and the animals that used to consider the new palm oil plantations their homes.

Recently, a group of six wild elephants caused a commotion when they entered a palm oil plantation in the Peranap Subdistrict of Indragiri Hulu Regency in Riau. Officials say the elephants came in search of food as the land had previously been a part of their natural territory.

“The elephants came to the palm oil palm plantation because that location used to be a part of their home range,” said Wiranto, the director general of Natural Resources and Ecosystem Conservation (KSDAE) at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, as quoted by Detik yesterday.

Wiranto said the six pachyderms were a family that lived in nearby Tesso Nilo National Park but had entered the plantation while retracing their migration routes in search of food, possibly because they couldn’t find enough sustenance in the park.

According to local police, the elephants damaged palm oil crops as well as crops at other nearby farms, leading to anger among locals who tried to drive them away with firecrackers.

Fortunately, the government’s Natural Resources Conservation Center (BBKSDA) has intervened on the elephants’ behalfs. A BBKSDA team consisting of 50 personnel, as well as two trained elephants, was tasked with herding the wild elephants back to Tesso Nilo. Their convoy was set to begin gathering the elephants up today.

Furthermore, KSDAE director Wiranto said that they would begin attaching GPS collars to certain elephants in order to track the movement of herds and prevent further conflict with humans.

Noting that the GPS collars had already been used on elephants in Aceh and Jambi, Wiranto said that only the alpha elephant of each pack needed a collar since the others follow the alpha.

The KSDAE chief that the GPS data would be used to track the elephants’ movement so that rangers could prevent them from leaving conservation areas.

While technology may be able to help solve part of the problem of protecting Indonesia’s endangered Sumatran elephants, the far more pressing problem is the encroachment of humans on their natural habitats. According to WWF Indonesia, the species’ population has fallen around 35% in the past two decades, from about 2,652 individuals to 1,724.

If the government doesn’t do more to conserve their habitats, in the not-too-distant future there may not be any elephants left to track.

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