Sunandar , a resident of Margahayu Hamlet, Labuhan Ratu VII Village, East Lampung, Lampung Province, walks slowly across an old embankment. His eyes were alert, noticing something behind the trees that grew tightly.
Margahayu Hamlet and WKNP are right next to each other. This conservation area covers approximately 125,631.31 hectares. It is a natural home for a number of protected wildlife such as tapirs [ Tapirus indicus ], Sumatran elephants [ Elephas maximus sumatranus ] , Sumatran tigers [ Panthera tigris sumatrae ], Sumatran rhinoceros [ Dicherohinus sumatrensis ] , and sun bears [ Helarctos malayanus ].
The people’s plantation and national planting are only separated by an embankment and a canal which is three meters wide and three meters deep. The embankment originates from a mound of earth making a canal, which is about 13 kilometers long, through swamp forest and lowland forest.
The building of this canal was an initiative of the residents in 1994/1995. They donate money to rent heavy equipment. Each family head whose canal is made, pays 25,000 per quarter hectare.
The favorite place for wild elephants to enter the residents’ gardens is through the swamp forest area. The embankment in this area has soft soil, so it slopes quickly, and in some places it has even collapsed, making it easy for elephants to step on.
The negative interaction between humans and wild elephants in East Lampung has been going on for a long time. Residents use various methods to prevent elephants from entering settlements and plantations.
In 1992, for example, the community installed solar power. However, the elephants did not run out of ways, they knocked down trees to damage the stun wires and then entered the residents’ gardens.
The siren installation has also been tried. The working system of this tool is if the elephant hits the wire, the siren sounds.
Residents also installed a barbed rotary drum in the breached canals, the most in the swamp. But once again, elephants don’t run out of ways. This smart animal actually makes a new path.
Dapa, a resident of Labuhan Ratu IX Village, told the same story. The embankments and canals in their village are also frequently broken into by groups of elephants. Various ways of dispelling done, but still can be broken through.
Even the method of scaring them by burning gunny sacks didn’t work, they seemed to know it was just a strategy to drive them away.
Even young people from Kampung Dua, Labuhan Ratu IX Village, took part. They formed their own group, namely the Wana Karya Muda Forest Farmers Group.
This group is chaired by Dodi Septian. It has been two years since the group has been active in mitigation efforts when wild elephants interact with humans.
“Every time an elephant approaches the canal, we are notified by the WKNP Wild Elephant Response Team or ERU [Elephant Response Unit],” said Dodi.
No matter day or night, hot or rainy, the group of youths aged between 17-25 years went straight to the field. They also took part in driving away the elephants.
This has been proven in Labuhan Ratu VII Village and several other villages. There are several permanent dikes in the marshes. Elephants cannot break into the passage.
“Permanent dikes must be made immediately.”
Alfan Junaidi, community leader of Labuhan Ratu IX Village, said that in the WKNP area there are around 6-7 large groups of elephants. In addition, there are some small groups and solitary or solitary elephants.
The elephants that often enter residents’ gardens are migrants. Alfan understands, before moving to Way Kambas, they had eaten rice, corn and cassava.
The relocation of wild elephants from Lampung to Way Kambas was due to massive development , including the clearing of forests for sugar cane plantations which are currently the three major state-owned companies, namely Gunung Madu, Bunga Mayang and Indo Lampung. Then, the function of the forest was changed to become a shrimp pond in Dipasena. Then, the function of the forest was changed to become a transmigration area in Mesuji.
This relocation is part of a government program called Tata Liman, which is an activity to manage the elephant population that has been divided due to development activities by translocating from the area around development activities to the area provided.
The first implementation of the liman system in Lampung was in 1984. At that time, the removal of wild elephants from Gunung Madu, Central Lampung. Next, in 1986 at Mount Betung, Pesawaran; 1991 in Padang Cermin, Pesawaran; 1992 in Mesuji; 1993 at the Aji Building, Central Lampung; 1994 in Tulang Bawang; and 1997 on the Right Way.
Alfan estimates that there were considerations that were overlooked at that time regarding the mass transfer of groups of elephants from all over Lampung Province to the Way Kambas forest. The forest around Way Kambas has also changed its function to become APL, in the form of settlements and agriculture.
This is because when they enter other use areas [APL] in the form of agriculture and settlements, there will be interaction. The problem persists to date.
The first recorded interaction between wild elephants and humans in Way Kambas was in 1953, when forest land was cleared around Way Kambas for transmigration areas in Purbolinggo and Way Bungur Districts.
Settlements and agriculture around Way Kambas continue to grow. Until now there are 38 definitive villages [directly adjacent] to the WKNP area without any buffer zones.
In addition, it can also be through contributions from BUMN and the private sector, especially those currently enjoying their business from the former elephant habitat that has been translocated to the WKNP forest.
“Or also, contributions from conservation organizations that use elephants in their demonstrations.”
Assisted GPS Collar
The Coordinator of the Way Kambas Elephant Response Unit [ERU], Nazaruddin, confirmed that residents of the buffer village are now actively driving away wild elephants.
It was easier for the ERU team to detect the presence of groups of wild elephants that were about to enter residents’ gardens. This is because almost all groups of elephants in the WKNP, around 6-7 groups, have had GPS collars attached .
However, he reminded elephants are still wild animals. The ERU team and the community must be vigilant and careful when dealing with interactions with wild elephants.
“Moreover, solitary elephants or walking alone. He’s more aggressive. Moreover, male wild elephants during mating season.”
Evidence of the dangerous negative interaction between wild elephants and humans is the incident on the night of Wednesday, November 9, 2022. At that time Zarkoni, a resident of Add Dadi Village, Purbolinggo District, East Lampung, died after being attacked by a wild elephant.
The incident started when Zarkoni and his two colleagues went to the fields to prevent elephants from destroying the crops. That night it rained. Zarkoni stood guard in the hut and one of his comrades watched from below.
At around 02.30 WIB, Thursday 10 November 2022, an elephant approached and damaged the pole of the hut. Two of Zarkowi’s colleagues escaped, but Zarkoni did not have time to run when the wild elephant knocked down the hut.
He fell and was attacked by a wild elephant. Broken right ribs and left leg. Zarkoni was helped by residents and taken to the hospital, but his life could not be saved.
The Head of the WKNP Office, Kuswandono, did not deny that negative interactions between humans and wild elephants still occur in Lampung. In fact, it is not only materially detrimental, it also threatens the life of one of the parties, it can be humans or the elephant itself.
He explained, to overcome elephant-human conflicts in the WKNP buffer zone, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry [KLHK] has allocated a budget of IDR 6.7 billion.
“The budget is intended to build a 5 kilometer embankment from the 10 kilometers that have not been built,” he said, during a meeting with partners in Lampung, late February 2023.
From monitoring by Mongabay Indonesia , the boundary between the WKNP and APL is divided into two. First , a natural barrier in the form of a river. In the north, this area is bounded by the Pegadungan River, in the Branch area, Umbul Salam, to Rantau Jaya Ilir.
Second , artificial boundaries. Almost all of them are temporary canals built by residents independently. In the Margahayu and Rawa Bandar areas, 40 kilometers of temporary canals were built, made in 1990 and 2015. Meanwhile in Toto Projo, 12 kilometers of embankments were built, made in 2010.
The Ministry of Environment and Forestry, explained Kuswandono, is also financing the construction of a 5-kilometer non-permanent canal in 2022 in the village of Tegal Yoso, which will be continued for another 5 kilometers in 2023 in the villages of Taman Fajar, Taman Endah and Tambah Dadi.
The Regional People’s Representative Council (DPRD) of East Lampung, supports efforts to deal with negative interactions between wild elephants and humans, by facilitating a meeting between the WKNP Office and the buffer communities, Thursday, June 9 2022.
Chairman of the East Lampung DPRD, Ali Johan Arif accompanied by the Chair of Commission II and members, quoted from Kompas Lampung, said the conflict between the community bordering the national park and elephants had been going on for a long time and there was no resolution yet.
When Will Humans Make Peace with Sumatran Elephants?
Human conflict with Sumatran elephants still continues.
Dwi Adhari Nugraha, Research Coordinator for the Indonesian Elephant Conservation Forum [FKGI] said, disputes still occur because of the proximity of human activities to elephant habitat. Humans enter elephant habitat to do gardening, while elephants are increasingly threatened and eventually attack humans.
As a result of the lack of protected areas, human interaction with elephants occurs which has a negative effect on wildlife conservation or on the environment.
“In fact, there is poaching by means of poisoning or electrocution to get their ivory.”
The impact is worrying, the Sumatran elephant is currently on the list of endangered species. FKGI from 2002-2007 showed that in Aceh Province, 68 elephants died, of which 55 individuals [81 percent] were due to conflicts with humans.
Capturing elephants is not a solution
Is mitigation by capturing elephants in the wild a conflict solution? No. This is because changing the behavior of post-capture wild elephants will be a big challenge. Elephants can die from stress and other disturbances.
Efforts to handle conflict
Efforts to handle conflict have also been carried out by the community. For example, the installation of a can fence. This fencing has been carried out since the 1980s as an early detection tool to keep away pests such as pigs and birds, but unfortunately this tin fence is vulnerable to damage by elephants.
Then the siren fence, used from 2005-2007 as a means of detection and deterrence. However, vulnerable to theft, care must also be intensive.
Wire fence was tried. Used in the 2000s as a passive deterrent. However, elephants are vulnerable to damage and also run the risk of injuring these large mammals. Honeycomb fences were also tested in 2004 as a passive deterrent. However, elephants can avoid by opening a new path.
In the 1980s, human surveillance was carried out as an early detection and active deterrence, involving the village community. Handling conflict in this way requires dedication and commitment.
Apart from threats of poaching and clearing of forests for plantations and mining, human-elephant conflicts also occur because of the construction of road infrastructure. This condition limits the mobility of elephants which are known as reliable explorers.
Based on FKGI’s study, infrastructure buildings hinder wild animals, including the Sumatran elephant from moving, and many are reluctant to pass. This is due to traffic, noise, smoke and vehicle lights. In fact, another threat is death due to collisions with human vehicles.
“Another threat, habitat loss and forest fragmentation. Not to mention the threat of waste produced by motorists,” said Dwi.
When will elephants and humans be at peace?
Ending human-elephant conflict requires consideration based on animal sustainability.
For example, humans respect elephant habitat by stopping the conversion of remaining natural forests and developing a nature-friendly community economy, for example ecotourism programs.
Based on data from the World Conservation Institute [IUCN], the Sumatran elephant is on the Critically Endangered list , which faces a very high risk of extinction in nature. While the Bornean elephant has an Endangered status, which means it is considered to be at very high risk of natural extinction, and both species are included in the Appendix 1 category [not allowed to be traded] in CITES .
The Indonesian government protects the Sumatran elephant and the Kalimantan elephant based on the Regulation of the Minister of Environment and Forestry Number P.106/Menlhk/Setjen/Kum.1/12/2018 concerning Protected Plant and Animal Species.