By Jenni Watts
The conflict between humans and critically endangered Sumatran elephants in Indonesia has been going on for decades, with the elephants on the losing end of the battle. The villagers and farmers don't kill them for food. They do it to keep their homes and crops safe. The grim result is the killing combined with shrinking elephant habitat contributes to an 80% population loss since the 1930s, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
In Riau Province alone, where the highest number of elephants on the island was recorded in the 1980s, the population decreased from 1,342 in 1984 to 201 in 2007.
The major contributor to this conflict is the fight over land. Elephant habitat is lowland, non-mountainous, relatively flat landscape below an altitude of 300 meters. That kind of land also makes great farmland, which is why humans have cut down the rainforest and planted crops.
Individual small farms may not seem like a big encroachment onto elephant habitat, but when that's combined with the forest loss from large companies cutting down hundreds of hectares of forest for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations, it results in the elephants running out of land.
Even though Sumatran elephants are relatively small compared to their African bush cousins, elephants are still the earth's largest land mammal. With a weight of up to 4,000 kg or 8,820 pounds and a height of up to 3.2 meters or 10 feet and 6 inches, these elephants aren't small and they need a lot of land to roam. Even forest blocks of 250 km are too small for a viable elephant population.
That means, as the elephant habitat is whittled away, the elephants will inevitably intrude onto villages and farms looking for food. One of their favorite foods is heart of palm, the same heart of palm we eat, which can be found in the center core of an oil palm tree. More....