Pygmy Elephants Under Threat From Development in Indonesia

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 1 Mar 13;

Nunukan, East Kalimantan. Pygmy elephants, already on the brink of extinction, face further threat, with the development of their habitat in Nunukan given preliminary approval. But the results of an assessment of the project’s impact on the environment may yet bring it to a halt.

The area around Tulin Onsoi may soon be developed as rubber and silk tree plantations after two companies — Borneo Utara Lestari and Intracawood — obtained preliminary permission to develop the area into a forestry plantation (HTI).

Before either company can begin to develop the area, both must first obtain an environmental impact analysis (Amdal) in order to gain final approval.

Wiwin Effendy, coordinator of the East Kalimantan branch of WWF Indonesia, said an analysis conducted by WWF showed that 66 percent of the land proposed for development by Borneo Utara Lestari were areas of elephant habitation, while the entire area proposed by Intracawood was elephant habitation.

Wiwin said the development should not be approved, as it could result in the elephants’ extinction. He also said that approving the HTIs would undermine the government’s commitment to protecting Indonesian elephants, as stipulated under a Forestry Ministry decree.

He said conflicts between elephants and humans in Nunukan had increased since 2005 when several oil palm plantation companies began development in the area. He added that conflicts were likely to increase with further development.

“The issue of an HTI permit in an elephant habitat would bring a negative impact for the local people. Wild elephants would face food scarcity and consequently look for food at people’s homes and this will create conflict,” he warned.

WWF Indonesia has called on the regional government to halt the operation and revoke the permits.

Studies conducted by WWF Indonesia and East Kalimantan BKSDA (Natural Resources Conservation Agency) over the past five years estimated that there were only 20 to 80 pygmy elephants left in the area and that extinction was likely without efforts by the government and other stakeholders to preserve their habitat.

Kalimatan elephants are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as on the brink of extinction.

Ilay, a local cultural figure in Sungai Tulid, criticized the regional government for issuing the permit. He said the Dayak Agabag tribe in Tulin Onsoi called the elephants “grandmother” and considered the animal holy.

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