Saving the Bukit Tigapuluh Elephants

Identifying problems and challenges is the first step, but what comes next?

Since early 2010, Frankfurt Zoolgocial Society implements an elephant conservation project in the region. The goal of the initiative is a peaceful coexistence between Sumatran elephants and people in Bukit Tigapuluh. Several parallel approaches realized by different FZS sub-projects will lead to maximal mutual success. Primarily, three keystone areas are the focus:

(1) Habitat Conservation

Elephants are in principal capable of sharing at least part of their home-range with land occupied by humans but are usually not tolerated by the people who have to cope with any resulting damage. However, elephants often have no other choice than to leave the forest and enter agricultural areas, as natural habitat and food becomes an increasingly scarce resource. Although lack of sufficient, good quality habitat might not necessarily be the only reason for crop-raiding and other human-elephant conflicts (HEC), it is obvious that a peaceful coexistence between people and elephants is impossible if elephants are not able to satisfy their basic needs away from human territories. FZS is therefore pushing the process to officially expand the forest areas under protection in Bukit Tigapuluh. In areas where permits have been granted to use the forest commercially, FZS is trying to cooperate with concession managers in order to save at least the most important habitat from total destruction. Through awareness campaigns FZS is trying to place pressure on concession owners in order to convince them of the need to increase the size of areas allocated for conservation inside their concessions. It is expected that elephants could use most of the pulp & paper concessions in case that management practice changes to elephant-friendly management systems.
Illegal logging and poaching remains a problem in most Indonesian wilderness areas. To improve and support law enforcement in Bukit Tigapuluh, up to eight teams (32 wildlife rangers) of the FZS Wildlife Protection Unit (WPU) are patrolling in the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem every month. Their tasks include, inter alia, investigation of wildlife crime, surveying wildlife distribution, or the documentation and prevention of habitat encroachment. All activities are carried out in close cooperation with BKSDA Jambi (Department for Wildlife and Nature Conservation) and other Indonesian authorities with which FZS established good partnerships over the years.  The work of the FZS WPU is substantially supported by the Australian Orangutan Project (AOP).

(2) Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation

Human-elephant conflict (HEC) is complex and despite decades of intensive research and an already long history of HEC (HEC might be a problem since the rise of the earliest agriculture civilizations in Asia and Africa) there are still no easy, inexpensive solutions available. The realistic goal of all initiatives must therefore be to address site-specific problems professionally in order to reduce HEC to a level acceptable for all parties involved (e.g. local farmers, plantation owners, forest department, local government, NGOs) instead of trying to completely eradicate it. FZS conducts intensive studies in Bukit Tigapuluh in order to identify HEC hotspots and the most important reasons for HEC in the region and to develop new strategies and methods for HEC mitigation in the region. Currently two specially trained Ranger teams are active in the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem. In addition to collecting crucial data on HEC these teams support the local people in HEC mitigation efforts, organize and execute workshops for local farmers (in order to improve their attitude towards elephants and to communicate effective HEC mitigation methods and safety measures), and test new HEC mitigation methods and strategies. The FZS ranger teams focus on the local communities, as these are suffering most from HEC and are expected to be responsible for a great deal of elephant killings in the area. Local small-scale farmers are not reimbursed for crop-losses caused by wildlife raids and often lose substantial parts of their yearly income in only a few nights of HEC. Reducing HEC will reduce hatred felt towards elephants. Helping the local people will thus not only prevent family disasters and human suffering but substantially reduces the risk of elephants being killed by desperate and raging farmers.

(3) Conservation Education & Community Development

Since 2009, Frankfurt Zoolgocial Society has run a community development and conservation education project in Bukit Tigapuluh (read an article about the project (available only in German) in FZS´s Gorilla July 2010). This project aims to communicate the concept of sustainability and nature- and wildlife conservation to the people living inside and in the immediate vicinity of the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem. Nature conservation can only be successful in the long-term if local people learn to understand and appreciate the value of nature and wildlife, and if working alternatives to the destructive exploitation of resources are present. Environmental education must be recognized as an essential investment that needs to be made now so we are all able to reap the benefits into the future. Increasing tolerance for wildlife will ease the conservation efforts of FZS in Bukit Tigapuluh in the future. Some positive effects are already apparent.

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