Indonesia: Elephant electrocuted, investigation urged

Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post 5 Feb 16;

The Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said on Thursday the death of an elephant, the carcass of which was found in the Balai Raja subdistrict, Pinggir district, Bengkalis, was caused by electrocution and is urging the government to probe into the case.

“The indication is supported by a skin injury on its trunk, which likely made contact with the electrified fence,” said the BKSDA Duri region head Haluanto Ginting.

Haluanto said the allegation was also strengthened by a damaged wire fence at a cassava farm close to where the dead elephant was found.

Based on an initial investigation, the cassava farm purposely installed an electrified fence to protect plants from being damaged by wild elephants.

“I cannot make sure whether the person who installed the electrified fence could be implicated. Just let investigators decide it,” said Haluanto.

A necropsy, conducted by a team of veterinarians at the BKSDA, did not find any trace of poison inside the internal organs of the elephant, which was found dead on Wednesday.

“The necropsy was delayed at one point because of bad weather, but was eventually completed before noon. It’s almost certain the elephant was not poisoned,” said Haluanto.

He said the elephant carcass would be buried today, while samples of its internal organs would be sent for analysis to a veterinary lab in Bogor, West Java, or in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra.

“The lab results will be issued in the next two weeks, when the exact cause of the elephant’s death will be disclosed,” he added.

Separately, Duri-Riau Environmental Activists Association (Hipam) head Zulhusni Syukri urged relevant agencies to investigate the alleged use of electrified fences to protect farms from elephants.

“Elephant deaths from electrified fences are not new. Two years ago, an elephant was also electrocuted in Semunai village, Pinggir district, Bengkalis,” said Zulhusni.

“It’s very dangerous. Many farm owners in Bengkalis install electrified fences to protect their farms. This must be thoroughly probed, especially if it violates the law,” added Zulhusni.

Based on Riau Program Worldwide Fund for Nature (AAF) Indonesia, the elephant’s death was the first in Bengkalis this year. Last year, two wild bull elephants were killed, one in February because of poaching and the second in July because of poisoning.

To prevent elephant deaths from occurring, Riau Program WWF Indonesia spokesperson Syamsidar urged the government to restore the function of the Balai Raja Wildlife Refuge. “The natural animal habitat is extremely disturbed so elephants roam up to people’s farms in search of food,” said Syamsidar.

She also highlighted the presence of a number of companies clearing the Balai Raja conservation forest for expansion at will. “Overlapping licensing should immediately be resolved. The relevant authorities must be firm that all the oil palm trees in the conservation area must be cut. The cut areas must be further monitored to prevent other parties from claiming them,” said Syamsidar.

Apart from the Balai Raja Wildlife Refuge, she added elephants had also lost a source of food in their habitat that had been converted into acacia and oil palm plantations.

“The elephants’ roaming range stretches from Balai Raja to the border between Bengkalis and Rokan Hulu regencies. The elephants traverse many concessions all the time so that their habitat is further fragmented and overlaps with human activities,” she said.

Syamsidar suggested companies whose concessions were included in the elephant roaming range to form a response team to prevent victims of human-animal conflicts.

“The potential of conflicts is apparently high, so concession holders must be involved in elephant protection efforts. Apart from conducting patrols to monitor elephants entering and leaving a concession area, the response team must also be able to anticipate a human-elephant conflict,” said Syamsidar.

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