Sumatran Elephants, Palm Oil Plantations, Deforestation, and Ecotourism

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Aceh is undeniably to be the region with the largest numbers of Sumatran elephant population on Sumatra Island. Deforestation in some areas bordering Gunung Leuser National Park that have become home to Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus) is also seriously impacted. Until today, since December 2022, what we have learned from massive hidden deforestation in Aceh has shocked us at how deforestation is still going on over and over.

wild sumatran elephants bukit lawang

Poverty, lack of jobs, and limited human resources have become the main trigger of deforestation in Aceh and the surrounding areas of Gunung Leuser National Park. The ongoing palm oil expansion in this region occurred due to the pressure demands of the local community for jobs and livelihoods.

“Aceh’s wildlife and forest crimes and other illegal activities have made it clear that there is a human population mobilized to live inside an area that is supposed to be fixed as a wildlife habitat. As we could see why deforestation and degradation of protected forests such as buffer zone are still going on. So, who should take accountability in this case?” Bobi Handoko (Founder of SUMECO).

SUMECO, which is only financially supported by the ecotourism revenues it generates, has launched the ecotourism concept in numerous locations with a strong commitment while not ignoring law enforcement for those who commit crimes. Since its inception, SUMECO has made it a priority to collaborate with Gunung Leuser National Park to safeguard the biodiversity of the Leuser.

forest crime investigation and elephants

The monsoon season dictates the tight migration routes that the Sumatran elephant follows. Males live alone, whereas females wander and congregate in groups, caring for one another. The movements of the groups will be guided by the collective decisions made by the participants; psychological factors are key to this movement. Sumatran elephants, like other elephant species, are sociable creatures that require huge tracts of land with ample food and shelter for populations to thrive.

Tenggulun and Halaban are two connected regions to the Gunung Leuser National Park, well-known to be the entry points for illegal loggers and hunters. Based on my inspection of the ground, I have seen the illegal loggers and hunters with my own eyes inside and outside the Gunung Leuser National Park.

Sumatran elephant is one of the critically endangered species protected by Indonesian law, but we must acknowledge that their numbers are declining due to habitat loss, and various disturbances to animals, including hunting, poisoning, and electrocution due to human-animal conflicts in the Aceh region.

The Aceh Province Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) noted that from 2010 to 2017, 44 elephants were reported to have died because they were hunted with rifles, snared, and most often poisoned. Most of the dead elephants were found in the eastern regions of Aceh, such as East Aceh, North Aceh, Bireuen, Takengon, and Gayo Lues districts. The elephant’s death is the result of high conflict with humans. Based on the survey, 85 percent of the Aceh elephant’s habitat is outside the forest area. Conflicts between elephants and humans have increased with the opening of new land for settlements and palm oil plantations.

Sumatran elephants in Indonesia are spread across several habitats in seven provinces on the Sumatra islands: Aceh, North Sumatra, Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, Bengkulu, and Lampung. The number of elephants in all elephant habitats in Indonesia is estimated to be between 673 and 700 based on data compilation from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) in 2021.

sumatra ecoproject bukit lawang elephants

Ecotourism has been considered one of the strategies that can overcome the problem of poaching and illegal logging in this area because conservation-based ecotourism provides jobs to the local residents who are likely to be involved in supporting illegal hunting and logging in the Gunung Leuser National Park area.

Elephants that are found around the damaged buffer zone and the degraded Gunung Leuser National Park area will become vital and important objects to protect and serve as the main potential in the development of conservation-based ecotourism in the area by hiring local communities.

SUMECO and Gunung Leuser National Park will work together to achieve this conservation-based ecotourism establishment, as SUMECO alone has started to bring some tourists into the area to enjoy the biodiversity of Gunung Leuser National Park, such as wild Sumatran elephants, wild Sumatran tigers, and wild Sumatran orangutans. As we could tell, it’s difficult to find these critically endangered species in Bukit Lawang as an established and running ecotourism area.

halaban besitang wild sumatran elephant jungle trekking

It is very important to ensure that ecotourism activities in this area are running, even if we have to walk among the palm trees, as we have to stop their expansion. But the beautiful forest of Gunung Leuser National Park is only 100 meters from this area. If you are interested to see wild elephants in this area, feel free to contact us by WhatsApp at +628968906850.

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