Elephant Patrols Seek to Protect Indonesia’s Rainforests

Agence France-Presse Jakarta Globe 11 Feb 15;

Trumon, Indonesia. Indonesian men ride on Sumatran elephants as they patrol though dense jungle in the west of the tropical archipelago, warriors on the front line of the fight against illegal logging and poaching.

They trek alongside rivers, over rough terrain and deep into the rainforest in an area that is home to numerous endangered species, from orangutans to tigers, but which has suffered devastating deforestation in recent years.

The sprawling Indonesian archipelago has large swathes of tropical forest but vast tracts are being felled to make way for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations, destroying biodiverse habitats and adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the logging that takes place is illegal as it happens outside concessions granted to companies, but it is hard for authorities to keep track. Poaching of endangered species is also common, with elephants killed for their ivory and tigers for their pelts.

The elephant patrol project, run with communities in the Trumon district of Aceh province, on Sumatra island, aims to give a helping hand.

It employs local men as “mahouts”, or elephant-keepers, who keep a lookout for illegal logging and poaching and report it to authorities to follow up.

Hendra Masrijal, 33, quit his job as a food vendor to become a mahout. He is among a group of around about 25 keepers involved in the scheme, including former separatists who fought against the central government until a peace deal was struck a decade ago.

“It makes me sad when I see pictures of elephants killed by poachers for their tusks,” Masrijal told AFP. “Their habitat is also being encroached [on] by farmers and villagers.”

The patrols deep into the jungle last between two and seven days, with mahouts normally spending 15 to 20 days a month on expeditions.

The initiative covers a vast area of 27,000 hectares called the “Trumon Wildlife Corridor”, which is wedged between two conservation areas. Authorities are currently trying to push through legislation to give it protected status.

As well as keeping a watch for logging and poaching, the program has staff who conduct training in local communities and develop eco-tourism to give villagers who have traditionally lived off illegal practices an alternative livelihood.

Tisna Nando, a spokeswoman for USAID, which has funded the expansion of the project over the past year, said communities were “enthusiastic” about the initiative.

“They see that they can actually benefit economically from protecting the forest in the area, rather than cutting it down,” she told AFP.

A study last year published in the journal Nature Climate Change showed that Indonesia had for the first time surpassed Brazil in its rate of tropical forest clearance, despite a moratorium on new logging permits imposed several years ago.

Agence France-Presse

Arrested poachers killed six Sumatran elephants: police
Antara 11 feb 15;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The eight poachers who were detained on Tuesday evening had killed six Sumatran elephants in two provinces, the Riau Provincial Police said.

"They belong to a cruel syndicate; they shot the elephants in their heads for their tusks. I strongly suspect they are part of a syndicate because they operated in different provinces, i. e. in Riau and Jambi," Senior Commissioner Y. S. Widodo, who is the head of the criminal investigation unit of the Riau police, stated here on Wednesday.

The local police detained the eight poachers and seized weapons and a pair of two-meter-long tusks on Tuesday evening.

They admitted that the tusks were taken from a male Sumatran elephant killed in Mandau, Bengkalis district, Riau province.

"During interrogation, the suspects confessed to have killed three elephants in Tesso Nilo National Park in Riau, three days ago. The elephants that were poached comprised a female and two males," he noted.

In September 2014, they had also killed two elephants in Jambi, and had sold their tusks at a price of Rp8 million, Widodo revealed.

The poachers names were announced by their initials as FA (50), HA (40), R (37), MU (52), S (30), R (30), I (25), and AS (50). FA was the main perpetrator behind the illegal hunting activities.

They face a five-year term in prison and are liable to pay a fine amounting to Rp200 million.

These arrests were the first of their kind after four years, despite several poaching incidents having been reported.

The WWF had recorded 43 cases of poaching of Sumatran elephants in Riau, but no arrests had been made. In 2012, 15 such cases had been reported, but no arrests had been made. In 2013, there had been 14 cases of elephant deaths, of which 13 were found dead in Tesso Nilo National Park.

According to reports, 14 wild elephants were found dead under unnatural circumstances in 2014.

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Police Nab 8 Hunters for Killing Elephant in Riau
Jakarta Globe 11 Feb 15;

Ivory can fetch up to $800 a kilogram on the international black market. (Reuters Photo/Bobby Yip)

Jakarta. The Riau Police on Tuesday arrested eight alleged ivory hunters who are suspected of having shot an elephant to cut off its tusks.

Officers confiscated two two-meter-long pieces of ivory, modified hunting rifles, six 7.6-millimeter bullets, blades and an axe.

The hunters allegedly told the police that they had been hunting for wild boars in the acacia woods of Bengkalis when an elephant walked past them. They proceeded to shoot the animal.

“The suspects are guilty of taking part in an illegal hunt,” Riau Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Guntur Aryo Tejo told Tempo.co, a news portal.

Police say the ivory is worth approximately Rp 10 million ($780) per kilogram on the international black market.

If found guilty of having violated the 1990 law on natural resources conservation, the hunters could face up to five years in jail and a fine of Rp 200 million.