Two more elephants found dead in Sumatra

Photo: AFP via Getty Images

The elephant populations of Borneo and Sumatra are highly important for the ecosystem they operate in. Unfortunately due to the human behaviour in the area their habitat is being cut up into smaller and smaller parcels of land. When they wander across unmarked arbitrary lines humans attack them.

On the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, where by definition the population cannot be huge, this can rapidly have a negative impact. The island of Sumatra is thought to have between 2,400 and 2,800 remaining elephants. This is already a dangerously low level for an animal population, however humans have cut down chunks of this rainforest and replaced it with their own crops and will attack any animal like an elephant that wander into this land. 

Fruits such as palm oils palms are naturally eaten by elephants and so a farmer’s field full of palm fruits is a wonderful source of nutrition for the elephant that finds it. Unfortunately this is not a problem with an easy solution – the oil palm should have been planted elsewhere and the rainforest should have been uninterrupted.

Recently a female elephant was found dead on a farmer’s land, and it is thought that it was killed by farm hands trying to protect the crop. Another elephant this time a male, also on Sumatra, was found dead but it appears that this one had been killed for its ivory that had been hacked out. It is unfortunate that a large portion of the rich people of the world would far rather have body parts of animals than living members of that species continuing to exist.

There is also a significant issue of education – a recent study of people in China and Vietnam using rhino horn for health benefits ( no scientific evidence exists for any of the claims)  they had no idea that the animal had to be killed to supply them the powder. There is also a similar confusion over elephants and ivory. Plenty of people do not realise that every comes from elephants and those that do often do not realise that they can only come from dead elephants. In Vietnam, the demand for rhino horn was greatly reduced when the scientific evidence against its use was laid out and people were informed of the deaths that their habits were causing.

In Sumatra the majority of elephants that died, died due to conflict between the needs of our elephants and the needs of oil palm farmers. Scientists are working hard to creating an oil palm plant that needs less water – if they could produce one we could plant the harshest deserts with oil palms. This way rather than on the palm oil industry being responsible for huge areas of deforestation they could plant areas of the Desert that are otherwise empty with huge oil palm forests. These would soak up far more CO2 than empty desert and and would produce palm oil from areas that no ecosystem is using reducing the pressure on deforestation in Asia.

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