Management of Human Conflict with Elephants Needs to Involve Many Parties

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Conflicts or negative interactions between humans and Sumatran elephants still occur in Aceh.

Data from the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency [BKSDA] show that in 2019 there were 106 conflicts, in 2020 [111 times] and 2021 [145 times]. Meanwhile, from January to July 2022, 62 cases were recorded.

The conflict occurred in the districts of Aceh Jaya, Pidie, Central Aceh, Nagan Raya, Bener Meriah, Pidie Jaya, South Aceh, Bireuen, East Aceh, Southeast Aceh, Aceh Tamiang, North Aceh, Central Aceh, West Aceh, and Subulussalam City.

Head of the Aceh BKSDA Gunawan Alza, said the conflict occurred due to disturbed elephant habitat and also the loss of local community wisdom.

“We are still dealing with this negative interaction and need the involvement of all parties, not just the BKSDA,” he said, Monday [24/7/2023].

Teungku Sulaiman, a resident of Sawang District, North Aceh District, said the conflict occurred because of the elephant’s habitat, so he lost his place to live.

“When I was little, it was rare to hear of human-elephant conflict,” said this 75-year-old man, Sunday [23/7/2023].

According to Sulaiman, the ancestors of the Acehnese people saw the conflict with the elephants as a sign that humans had made mistakes. 

Now, everything changed. The forest was opened for human greed. Elephants are hunted for their ivory, then sold.

The same thing was conveyed by Hendra, a cultural observer in Aceh. According to him, the ancestors of the people of Aceh really appreciated wild animals in the forest. Communities live side by side and respect each other.

The forest is broken

Encroachment on forest areas still occurs within forest areas in Aceh Province. This causes disruption of elephant habitat.

Early July 2023, Mongabay Indonesia traced the Southwest Aceh District road – Gayo Lues Regency and Gayo Lues Road – East Aceh. The two roads were built by dividing the forest in the Leuser Ecosystem [KEL].

In Babahrot Subdistrict, Southwest Aceh District, a forest area was cleared after the pass became easier to pass. On the side of the road, you can see the opening of a limited production forest area that is included in the KEL.

The Babahrot community said that the local community did not clear the land for the garden. The reason is that local people do not have the capital to clear the land of more than five hectares.

“This is an outside job. The people here won’t be able to,” said Nasruddin, a resident of Babahrot, Friday [14/7/2023].

Based on the calculations of the Aceh Natural Forest and Environment Foundation [HAkA], from 1990 to 2020, Aceh Province lost around 690 thousand hectares of forest cover. This is equivalent to nine times the area of ​​Singapore. By calculation, in 1990 Aceh’s forest cover reached 3.7 million hectares.

Manager of Geographic Information System [GIS] HAkA Lukmanul Hakim, on Tuesday [2/8/2023] said, by 2022, Aceh’s forest cover that had disappeared reached 9,383 hectares.

Why is Human Conflict with Sumatran Elephants in Aceh High?

Most recently, an individual wild Sumatran elephant was found dead in a community garden area in Sri Mulya Village, Peunaron District, East Aceh District, Aceh, Friday [14/10/2022]. Based on the results of the necropsy by the Aceh BKSDA team, the female elephant, aged 6-7 years, died as a result of consuming fertilizer in the hut in the garden.

Data from the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency [BKSDA] show, from January to August 2022, there were 68 cases of human-elephant conflict. Its distribution is in the districts of Aceh Jaya, South Aceh, Nagan Raya, Bener Meriah, Pidie, Pidie Jaya, Bireuen, Central Aceh, North Aceh, Aceh Tamiang, East Aceh, West Aceh, Southeast Aceh, and Subulussalam City.

“One main cause is that the habitat is damaged, or turned into agricultural and plantation areas,” explained the Head of the Conservation Section for Region I BKSDA Aceh Kamarudzaman, Wednesday [20/07/2022].

Kamarudzaman explained what happened in North Aceh District. The Aceh BKSDA and partner institutions no longer know where to take the elephants in conflict, because most of their habitat has become oil palm plantations.

“There are not a few elephants trapped in plantations. We are trying our best, don’t let these protected animals become victims, let alone die,” he added.

Head of the Aceh BKSDA Agus Arianto said his party and other government agencies at the provincial and district/city levels and their partners continue to minimize conflicts.

To prevent elephants from entering gardens or community settlements, barriers or ditches were made in East Aceh, South Aceh, and several areas. Shock fences or power fencing with low electric current were also built in Pidie, East Aceh, and Bener Meriah Regencies.

“All of this cannot be done by the Aceh BKSDA and partner institutions without the active participation of the community,” he explained, in early August 2022.

To overcome the conflict, seven Conservation Response Units (CRU) were also established in East Aceh, North Aceh, Bener Meriah, Pidie, Aceh Jaya, West Aceh, and South Aceh. In each CRU, there are three or four tame elephants that function to help minimize conflict.

Head of the Natural Resources Protection and Conservation Division of the Aceh Environment and Forestry Service [DLHK], Muhammad Daud said the handling of human-elephant conflict is constrained by problems, such as agriculture and plantations.

“The need for land in Aceh is increasing due to population growth,” he said, on 1st June 2022.

Regarding wildlife, Aceh already has Qanun or Aceh Regional Regulation Number 7 of 2016 concerning Aceh Forestry and Qanun Number 11 of 2019 concerning Wildlife Management. DLHK Aceh together with related institutions, academics, and NGOs is finalizing the Wildlife Management Strategy and Action Plan [SRAP].

“The plan for the development of the Aceh Essential Ecosystem Area [KEE] as a corridor and habitat for wild animals, including elephants, is also carried out with the involvement of several parties.”

KEE is not just a forest area, it could also be agricultural land or community plantations. If it is community land, the ownership does not change.

“What is regulated is management. For example, community land in the elephant corridor must be a type of plant that elephants don’t like,” said Daud

Why the high conflict?

Why do human-elephant conflicts in Aceh continue to occur every year? The 2021 Leuser International Foundation [YLI] research team has conducted an analysis.

The Head Researcher of the Leuser International Foundation [YLI], Renaldi Safriansyah in the webinar “Roots of Problems of Human-Elephant Conflict in Aceh and Nature-Based Solutions” on Wednesday, [02/02/2022] presented the results of human conflict research with Sumatran elephants in Aceh since 2015 to 2020.

Data was collected based on community reports recorded by the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency [BKSDA]. In addition, added field data in Pidie and Bener Meriah Regencies.

Renaldi said that the cause of human-elephant conflict is becoming more frequent because the elephant’s habitat is shrinking due to the shrinking forest area.

Global Forest Watch data [2021] shows Aceh lost around 51,821 hectares of primary forest during 2017–2020. In detail, 2017 [17,820 hectares], 2018 [15,071 hectares], 2019 [10,200 hectares], and 2020 [8,730 hectares].

All stakeholders must apply the principle of natural-based solutions with green infrastructure and natural infrastructure approaches.

He added the areas whose cover had decreased were in 21 regencies/cities, due to illegal logging, encroachment, and conversion of functions.

Already reminded

Director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment [Walhi] Aceh, Ahmad Shalihin explained, his party had warned of the potential for human-human conflict. This is because the management of forest areas is not carried out properly.

Efforts to improve environmental governance must start with the Revised Aceh Spatial Planning which has not yet accommodated the issue of conflict between animals and humans.

“This is expected to be a solution to the overlapping use of space that does not pay attention to animal habitats. Efforts to enforce environmental law must also be carried out firmly, not reactionary when there is an extraordinary incident,” he explained.

Roaming Paths Disturbed, Wild Elephant Conflicts with Humans Frequently Occur

Sufri [40] died after being attacked by a wild elephant in the protected forest area of ​​Kekuyang Village, Ketol District, Central Aceh District, Aceh Province, Sunday [05/02/2023]. Three other residents, Miswan [56], Sis [32], and Safar [35] had to undergo intensive treatment at the Regional General Hospital [RSUD] Datu Beru, Takengon, Central Aceh District.

Head of the Central Aceh Regional Disaster Management Agency (BPBD), Andalika explained, when the community was building a hut, it was suddenly attacked by wild Sumatran elephants.

Sunday [12/02/2023] evening, Fitriani [45] died from being attacked by a wild elephant in her garden in Lhok Keutapang Village, Tangse District, Pidie Regency.

The Tangse Police Chief, Ipda Aidil Saputra, said that the victim was alone in a hut three kilometers from a residential area.

Elephant walking trail

The Aceh BKSDA noted that from January to October 2022, there were 69 cases of conflict between elephants and humans. Previously, in 2021 [145 cases], 2020 [111 cases], and 2019 [106 cases].

Head of the Aceh Natural Resources Conservation Agency [BKSDA], Agus Arianto, said the conflict in Ketol District occurred in a protected forest area. This means that the community garden is in a protected forest.

“The location is an elephant track area. We have repeatedly told the community not to carry out activities such as clearing agricultural land or plantations in forest areas,” he said, Wednesday [15/02/2023].

Agus ensured that the Aceh BKSDA together with related institutions had visited the location of the conflict. The distance is about six kilometers from residential areas.

BKSDA Aceh and partners have installed GPS collars in groups of elephants in Bener Meriah and Central Aceh districts. However, it was not the group of elephants that attacked the residents.

Regarding the death of a resident in Tangse District, the Section Head of Region 1 of the Aceh BKSDA, Kamaruzaman, said that Pidie District is an area with the highest intensity of elephant-human conflict.

According to him, the habitat and paths of Sumatran elephants in Aceh Province are not only in forest areas but also areas for other uses.

tame elephant dies in North Sumatra

Meanwhile Tuesday [14/02/2023], a tame elephant died at the Aek Nauli Elephant Conservation Camp [ANECC], Dolok Panribuan District, Simalungun Regency, North Sumatra Province. ANECC is in a special purpose forest area [KHDTK] which was inaugurated on 7 December 2017.

Head of the North Sumatra Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BBKSDA), Rudianto Saragih Napitu, said the 43-year-old male elephant was named Dwiki.

“Previously, Dwiki was moved from Barumun Nagari Wildlife Sanctuary [BNWS], on December 18, 2022,” he explained Friday [17/02/2023].

The transfer was carried out due to illness and intensive care at ANECC.

However, in the second week of February 2023, Dwiki experienced a behavior change, namely she didn’t want to eat. Due to these conditions, on February 11, 2023, doctor Vesswic went down to ANECC and carried out intensive care. Tuesday, 14 February 2023, the Dwiki elephant is not anymore.

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