1. A group of 10 Sperm Whales was stranded on Nov. 13 on a beach in Sumatra’s Aceh province.
  2. Four of the stranded Sperm Whales died after being stuck for several hours in the shallow waters off the beach. Photo courtesy of .
  3. Photos: WWF-Indonesia

    Indonesia: 4 Sperm Whales dead after mass stranding in Sumatra
    14th November 2017;

    • A pod of 10 Sperm Whales beached earlier this week in shallow waters in western Indonesia.
    • Despite attempts by authorities and residents to push the animals back out into deeper water, four of the Whales died after being stranded overnight.
    • Experts are looking into what caused the Whales to swim so close to shore.

    Four Sperm Whales were reported to have died Tuesday following a mass stranding on a beach on the northwestern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia.

    A group of 10 Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus) was spotted on Ujong Kareung beach in Aceh province on Monday morning, according to WWF-Indonesia, which has been monitoring attempts to rescue the animals.

    Officials from the Navy, fisheries ministry and local government deployed teams and worked with residents and NGOs to try to push and tow the stranded Whales back out into deeper water.

    Two of the Whales were reportedly injured, while the others risked suffocation and organ failure from being stuck in shallow waters for too long, according to Arman, a veterinarian from the Center for Wildlife Studies at the Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital.

    Seven Whales were pushed back out into deeper water between Monday evening and early Tuesday morning, according to Whale Stranding Indonesia, a marine mammal conservation organization based in Jakarta, which has also been monitoring the rescue. However, one of them returned to the beach.

    By Tuesday afternoon, the four stranded Whales were dead, according to WWF-Indonesia.

    “We are coordinating with veterinarians to conduct a necropsy on the dead four Whales,” the NGO said. “We are also using drones to monitor the six Whales that survived.”

    It is not yet clear why the Whales swam so close to the shore, as the species is known to prefer open ocean with waters deeper than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet).

    One theory is that the Whales, which navigate by echolocation, were disoriented by seismic surveying activity, an offshore oil-and-gas exploration technique in which sound waves are blasted down to the seabed and the reflected waves used to provide information about the geology.

    Three seismic surveys were reported to have taken place near the site where the Whales were stranded, according to Stranded No More, a watchdog group with an interest in marine mammals.

    The beaching of some 100 Melon-headed Whales (Peponocephala electra) in northwest Madagascar in 2008 was attributed in a 2013 report to acoustic stimuli from a survey vessel contracted by ExxonMobil.

    The sound waves involved are typically 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine and can severely impact fish, Dolphins, Whales and Sea Turtles, causing temporary and permanent hearing loss, disrupting mating, and driving the animals into shallower water, where they risk getting stranded, according to oceans conservancy NGO Oceana.

    The Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) acknowledged the possibility that a seismic survey may have been a factor in the stranding, but said there was little chance that this was the case in Aceh.

    Another possibility, said Amang Raga of JAAN, involves the injured Whales. He said Sperm Whales travel as a group, with the leader swimming out in front, and pod members were unlikely to abandon one another.

    “So if one of the Whales in the front becomes ill, the others will follow wherever it goes, and possibly [in this case it] swam close to the shore,” Amang said.

    Sperm Whales, which can grow to up to 20.5 meters (67 feet) in length, are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

    Source: Mongabay

  1. The remains of Sabre found on New Year’s Eve.
  2. Sabre’s satellite collar can be seen on the left of his skull.
  3. The other bull that was murdered more recently, about 1,500 meters from where Sabre was killed. Ivory was also removed.

Photos: Danau Girang Field Centre and Wildlife Rescue Unit

Malaysia: Elephants in Borneo slaughtered for ivory
Remains of two large Elephant bulls were discovered near Segama River, Kawag Forest Reserve in Sabah, 1,500 meters from each other.
By Shreya Dasgupta, 3rd January 2017;

  • The carcass of the first Elephant was discovered on December 27, and that of the second Elephant — a sabre-tusked bull named Sabre — was found on New Year’s Eve.
  • Both Elephants had their tusks removed.
  • According to Sabre’s satellite collar, the Elephant was likely killed on 21 November 2016.

Last month, poachers slaughtered two Elephants for ivory in Sabah in Malaysian Borneo.

Wildlife rescuers discovered the remains of the first Borneo Elephant on December 27, and those of the second Elephant — a sabre-tusked bull named Sabre — on New Year’s Eve. The two carcasses were found near Segama River, Kawag Forest Reserve, 1,500 meters from each other. Both had their tusks removed.

In a statement, teams from Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) said that they were “deeply saddened” by the slaughtering of the two wild Elephant bulls.

“There are no words to express our sadness,” said Dr Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam, wildlife veterinarian from Wildlife Rescue Unit. “It looks like there is no safe place for Elephants in Sabah anymore.”

Sabre had been rescued from a plantation near Tawau in October 2016. He was fitted with a satellite collar, and released into a forest near Danum where the teams believed he would be safe. “We were obviously wrong,” Benoit Goossens, Director of DGFC, said in the statement.

According to Sabre’s satellite collar, which the rescuers found next to his skull, the Elephant was likely killed on 21 November 2016.

“On the day China banned ivory trade, we get two of our precious Elephants murdered for their ivory,” Goossens said. “We are ready to provide all necessary information to the investigators and to the police. I believe that this is the work of a professional hunter and trader.”

In October 2016, another third Elephant carcass was discovered on the east coast Kinabatangan, according to The New Paper. This killing was reportedly not made public.

The Director of Sabah’s Wildlife Department, Augustine Tuuga, told The Star that they were working with the police to track the poachers. “We are gathering information about the poachers. We believe they were from outside the plantations,” he said.

Borneo Elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) are listed by the IUCN as Endangered. Estimates put these Elephant numbers at 1,500 to 2,000, living almost entirely in Sabah. Borneo Elephants are primarily threatened by habitat loss, which has been increasing conflicts with people. In 2013, for instance, officials found 14 dead Pygmy Elephants in Sabah, allegedly poisoned by chemicals used to clear forests for massive palm-oil plantations.

“Our Elephants are already threatened by habitat loss, development such as the planned road/bridge in Sukau-Kinabatangan, and if we add poaching for ivory, I don’t give many years to the species before it gets extinct,” Goossens said. “My hope is that Sabah wakes up… we are losing our megafauna, the (Sumatran) Rhino is gone, the Banteng is going, the Elephant will be next. Those crimes should not go unpunished. Let’s not lose our jewels, the next generation will not forgive us.”

Source: Mongabay

  1. A Maninjau fish farmer beholds a carpet of floating carcasses after the mass death last week.
  2. The dead fish are carried out of the lake in plastic bags.
  3. Dead fish in Lake Maninjau.
  4. Farmers use nets to clean the lake.

Photos: Vinolia

Indonesia: First Toba, now Maninjau: another mass fish death hits an Indonesian lake
It was only the latest fish kill in the volcanic Lake Maninjau, which scientists say is overburdened with too many fish farms.
By Vinolia, translated by Philip Jacobson, 9th September 2016;

  • Three thousand tons of farmed fish are thought to have perished in Lake Maninjau, the largest lake in Indonesia’s West Sumatra province.
  • The die-off follows a similar incident that occurred in Lake Toba, North Sumatra, in May.
  • As in Toba, scientists say there are too many fish farms in Lake Maninjau, exacerbating the natural factors that may have killed the fish.

Another mass fish death has hit Indonesia’s main western island of Sumatra.

Four months after millions of Carp (Cyprinus carpio) and Tilapia (Oreochromis sp.) died suddenly in Lake Toba, the archipelagic country’s biggest lake, a similar incident has occurred in Lake Maninjau nearby.

The latter event is thought to have been twice as deadly. Where in May, 1,500 tons of fish rose lifeless to the surface of Lake Toba, fish farmers in Maninjau said that an estimated 3,000 tons appeared to have perished there on August 31 — and that the losses were financially ruinous.

The Maninjau die-off was also greater in scope. Where in Toba, the fish kill was limited to the floating cages of Haranggaol village, where locals had packed a sheltered bay with vast rows of steel-framed net pens, the Maninjau incident affected several villages around the lake. Toba is 11 times the size of Maninjau and 19 times the size of Manhattan.

The fish in Maninjau appear to have been either poisoned by hydrogen sulfide gas from hydrothermal vents on the lake floor or asphyxiated by a sudden depletion of oxygen in the water. This may have been brought on by an inversion of the lake’s water layers due to strong winds or rains — “extreme weather,” as local officials and fish farmers termed it.

But these natural phenomena are exacerbated by human activity, said environmental geologist Ade Edward Darwin. The first problem is that there are too many fish farms. The lake’s carrying capacity for aquaculture is 6,000 cages, according to the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), a government-funded thinktank. At present, 17,000 cages now lie suspended in Maninjau’s waters. Uneaten fish feed and feces from the net pens fuel a process called eutrophication, in which the water becomes excessively rich in nutrients. This nutrient loading can induce oxygen-devouring algal blooms that suffocate fish, as is thought to have happened in Toba in May.

An added complication in the volcanic Lake Maninjau is that sulfur from hydrothermal vents can morph into hydrogen sulfide which poisons fish. Sulfur can also trigger the release of phosphorus from fish-feeding sediments in the lake’s bottom, fueling the eutrophication cycle.

Fish kills are a regular occurrence in Lake Maninjau. In 2009, 7,000 tons of fish turned up dead in the lake. Another major incident happened in 2014. Darwin, the environmental geologist, said the die-offs had been growing in frequency as fish farming expanded. In 2001, a LIPI team visited the lake at the request of the provincial governor and recommended a reduction in the number of cages on the lake. “This could not be implemented by the district government,” Darwin told Mongabay.

When Mongabay visited Maninjau after the latest fish kill, a foul odor hung over the lake. Masses of flies hovered above the stinking pens. The rotting carcasses had begun to mar the water quality. A team from the Agam district fisheries agency was helping residents clean up the lake, using vans and excavators to transport the dead fish. The carcasses were buried in empty fields on the lake’s edge.

Eriandi, a local aquafarmer, said he lost 50 tons of fish and put his losses at nearly 1 billion rupiah ($76,000). “If one kilogram of fish costs 19,000 rupiah [$1.44], one ton of dead fish means a loss of 19 million rupiah,” he said. “If 1,000 tons, that’s 19 billion rupiah [$14.4 million].”

Many of the fish farms are backed by entrepreneurs from outside the area, with farmers going in debt to fund their operations, said Ermanto, head of the Agam district fisheries agency.

“It’s difficult to get them to change their ways because they have multiplied their debts and they want to keep farming so that the debt is paid off,” Ermanto told Mongabay.

Another problem is that farmers tend to use fish feed that sinks instead of the more expensive floating kind.

“For every 10 kilograms of feed dropped into the water, only 6 kilograms at most are absorbed. The remainder accumulates in the lake,” Ermanto said.

Source: Mongabay

  1. Dead fish are seen around Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) in Haranggaol. The plants are a sign of excess nutrients in the water system.
    Photo: Aria Danaparamita
  2. Dead fish in one of the Haranggaol’s floating net cages in May.
    Photo: Ayat S. Karokaro/Mongabay

Indonesia: Why did millions of fish turn up dead in Indonesia’s giant Lake Toba?
A village of aquafarmers grapples with the aftermath of a mass fish death that nearly killed the local economy. Is it too late to prevent a repeat of the catastrophe from occurring?
By Aria Danaparamita, 30th August 2016;

  • In May, millions of fish died suddenly in the Haranggaol Bay of Lake Toba, Indonesia’s largest lake. Scientists chalked it up to a sudden depletion of oxygen in the water, the result of a buildup of pollutants in the lake, unfavorable weather conditions and unsustainable practices by local aquafarmers.
  • The local economy was badly shaken by the incident. Most residents of Haranggaol village rely on the fish farms as their only dependable source of income. Many villagers have had to go into debt to keep their businesses from collapsing.
  • Haranggaol residents have since tried to modify their practices to prevent another die-off, but without the resources and know-how of the lake’s corporate aquafarmers, they have had a difficult time.
  • Meanwhile, the government has big plans for Lake Toba as a tourist destination along the lines of a “Monaco of Asia” — one that might not include the unsightly fish farms.

On the morning of May 4, the fish farmers of Haranggaol were waking up to feed the Tilapia (Oreochromis sp.) and Carp (Cyprinus carpio) they raise in floating cages here on Indonesia’s Lake Toba. But when they got to the shore, the lake was gleaming white with fish carcasses.

“We were going to feed them, but the fish already died,” 39-year-old Mariando Nainggulan told Mongabay one recent evening in the village, home to 3,200 people.

Mariando, one of Haranggaol’s biggest aquafarmers, said he lost over 1 billion rupiah ($75,000) and had to borrow that amount from a bank to keep his business afloat. “It was sudden,” he said. “Of course I was sad. And of course I was confused.”

An estimated 1,500 tons of Tilapia and Carp perished in the first mass fish death to hit Toba, Indonesia’s largest lake, since 2004, when its Carp stock was demolished by the koi herpes virus.

This time, researchers pinned the blame on a depletion of oxygen in the water, brought on primarily by an excess of sewage, detergents, fertilizer — and fish feed. Met with overcrowded fish cages and unfavorable weather, the conditions became fatal.

It wasn’t the country’s first mass fish asphyxiation — notable incidents have occurred in West Sumatra’s Lake Maninjau and in the reservoirs of West Java — but it was the first time it happened in Lake Toba, according to a government agency that analyzed the Haranggaol incident.

Scientists have long warned that pollution in the lake is reaching untenable levels — and the Haranggaol fish kill may be the canary in the coal mine.

Surrounded by scenic mountains in North Sumatra province, Lake Toba was once a booming tourist destination. Formed by a volcanic caldera, the lake drew domestic and foreign visitors with its clear water.

But in the last two decades, tourism has slowed to a trickle, and even locals say that water in parts of the lake is no longer fit for drinking or swimming.

A damaged lake

In 2014, Bogor Agricultural University researchers classified the lake as eutrophic, meaning it had become excessively rich in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus — and prone to oxygen-devouring algal blooms. The Environment and Forestry Ministry’s inquiry into the May fish kill found that the lake’s phosphorus content had tripled since 2012.

The nutrient loading was worst near the floating cages, where large amounts of fish feed containing phosphorus, an essential element for fish growth, are daily dropped into the lake.

“Aquaculture shouldn’t be solely blamed for lake pollution,” Josh Oakley, an environmental specialist who studied the lake’s carrying capacity for aquaculture production, told Mongabay. Pollutants come from a variety of sources, such as agricultural runoff and sewage from houses and hotels.

Still, “The uncontrolled rising number of floating cages has caused grave environmental problems,” the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) concluded in a report about the fish kill. “The number keeps rising, and is thought to have far exceeded the ecosystem’s carrying capacity.”

The 1,130-square-kilometer Lake Toba produces an estimated 76,000 metric tons of aquaculture products a year, much of it from local farmers. Two companies — Swiss-owned PT Aquafarm Nusantara and PT Suri Tani Pemuka, an arm of the Singapore-listed Japfa Group — also cultivate Tilapia on the lake and export fillets internationally, including to the U.S. and Europe.

PT Aquafarm — responsible for 40,000 tons of production in 2015 — has come under fire for introducing waste into the lake.

Haranggaol, the lake’s second-largest source of farmed fish, has also been criticized for pollution. Where in 2005 the village had 854 floating pens, today there are over 6,000. But that explosion, while a boon to the local economy, has come at a cost.

Sitting on an inlet ringed by steep hills on the lake’s northeastern edge, Haranggaol Bay is dominated by vast rows of steel-framed net cages across its 3-square-kilometer surface.

The bay’s small size and relatively calm waters means it particularly struggles to absorb all the effluents it receives. In a paper for the University of Rhode Island, Oakley determined its phosphorus concentration to be an average total of 110 milligrams per cubic meter, placing the bay “well beyond hyper-eutrophic status.”

The presence of domestic wastewater alone, he found, made it impossible for the bay to return to a preferred oligotrophic state, in which the water is low in nutrients and high in oxygen.

To achieve the next best thing — a mesotrophic condition — Haranggaol would need to drastically cut its fish production to only 20.12 tons per year, Oakley wrote. That’s a sharp cut from the estimated 27,000 tons it currently produces. Oakley notes that adopting more sustainable practices can help raise that production capacity. But even with the most optimal practices, Haranggaol would still only be able to farm 51.85 tons per year, he wrote.

Meanwhile, the environment ministry in Jakarta has called for a 44 percent cut in aquaculture production lakewide.

A military crackdown

The government has long struggled to curb the rise of unregulated community fish farms. A 2014 presidential edict stipulated that aquaculture would only be allowed in one district: Toba Samosir.

The campaign against fish farming ramped up in recent months after President Joko Widodo announced a plan to turn Toba — dubbed the “Monaco of Asia” — into a major tourist destination.

Local governments have wasted no time in carrying out the mandate. In late July, Simalungun district — which also covers Haranggaol — dispatched military and police officers to dismantle cages in Sualan village, about 70 kilometers south of Haranggaol.

After pleas from local fish farmers, the government agreed to postpone the eviction. Instead, the seven districts on the lake and the provincial government agreed on new zoning regulations, while asking the farmers to adhere to stricter environmental standards.

“Not zero — there are zones where they will be allowed so it is safe for the environment,” Mixnon Andreas Simamora, head of Simalungun’s development agency, told Mongabay.

Haranggaol is included as a fish farming zone. Still, news of the military operation in Sualan sent waves of panic to the village.

That, on top of the mass death, led the Haranggaol fish farmers to worry about what their future would look like.

A village of fish farmers

Haranggaol, a four-drive drive from Sumatra’s largest city, Medan, turned to fish farming in the 1980s after a virus wiped out its previous crops: onions and garlic.

“Haranggaol was threatened with starvation. Some wise people tried to farm fish,” said Hasudungan Siallagan, 45, head of the local fish farmers’ association.

Now, Hasudungan said, about 80 percent of the village relies on fish farming. “That includes laborers: net workers, delivery workers, they all live from the cages.”

For many of the villagers who don’t own land to farm, fish farming is currently their only dependable source of income. Many fund their businesses by taking out bank loans. Losing or severely reducing aquaculture would not only disrupt the families’ income — it would leave them under massive debt.

After the die-off, the farmers were forced to halt fish deliveries to local markets, and did not put in new crop for a month. Villagers rented trucks and machinery and banded together to bury the fish in a hillside mass grave.

In addition to the economic shock, the mass death forced Haranggaol’s fish farmers to reconsider the environmental impacts of their practices.

“The farmers don’t know good aquaculture techniques. We didn’t even know the carrying capacity per meter,” Hasudungan said, explaining that they mostly learned through trial and error.

After the fish kill, the villagers scrambled to find solutions to prevent another disaster.

“After the incident, we began to correct our practices,” Mariando said. “We rearranged the cages. Then we reduced the number of fish in the cages. We don’t put in 15,000 per cage anymore — just around 5,000 each cage. And the effect is visible: fish death has been significantly reduced.”

Yet to have any real impact on restoring the water quality, the farmers need to do a lot more than that.

‘Of course I’m worried’

It’s not just local farmers feeling the pressure to be more environmentally conscious. PT Suri Tani Pemuka, which also operates farming sites in Simalungun district, is experimenting with new cleaning technology.

The company began farming fish in the lake in 2012 and produced around 4,000 tons of fish in 2015.

Since last year, it has imported 12 “lift-up” cleaning systems from Norway to vacuum waste and dead fish from the net bottoms. The company also uses broadcaster machines that shoot out feed at a pre-programmed rate to reduce the amount of wasted pellets. And it’s working to reduce the phosphorus content of the Comfeed brand of pellets it produces, which is also sold to farmers.

“We do this because what is good for the environment is good for fish, and what is good for fish is good for the company,” Jenny Budiati, the company’s head of seafood processing, told Mongabay.

But although such innovations might be promising, local farmers who can’t afford Norwegian machinery are unlikely to replicate them in their own makeshift cages.

In his paper, Oakley outlined that certain practices could help increase Haranggaol’s carrying capacity. This includes placing the cages further offshore, where the water is deeper and currents can help maintain a healthier flow of oxygen and disperse waste. Farmers could also select feed that contains less phosphorus and ensure that fewer pellets are wasted.

In mid-August, PT Suri Tani Pemuka representatives held a workshop in Haranggaol on feeding practices and cage maintenance. But economic constraints are making it difficult for the Haranggaol farmers to make changes, even something as simple as switching to floating pellets with low phosphorus content since those cost more.

Since the mass death in May, the villagers have reorganized their previously haphazardly laid-out cages. Now the cages are arranged in lines, with some extending further offshore than before. That move alone cost the villagers the money they had saved to fix potholed roads in the village.

The Haranggaol farmers said they haven’t been told of any concrete plans from the government to help or incentivize local farmers to make their cages more sustainable.

“What does ‘environmentally friendly’ mean? What does that look like?” Hasudungan asked. “They have offered no solutions.”

Then again, improving fish farming is only one part of the solution. Haranggaol — and the lake region at large — must figure out better ways to treat pollutants from other sources.

Meanwhile, the question looms of whether Haranggaol’s pollution is so dire that large-scale fish farming simply can’t coexist with Lake Toba’s tourism dreams even with the most sustainable practices, as Oakley’s modelling suggests.

And while sustainability remains an elusive aim, Mariando says he has to think far more short-term: the two-month-old fish he’s currently growing in his nets.

“Of course I’m worried,” he said of continuing to farm in the wake of the die-off. “I’m waiting to harvest by the new year. Hopefully.”

Source: Mongabay

  • A carpet of dead fish in one of the floating net cages in Lake Toba.
  • Masses of dead fish are hauled away in plastic bags.

Photos: Ayat S Karokaro/Mongabay, Mongabay-Indonesia

Indonesia: Millions of fish die suddenly in Indonesia’s giant Lake Toba
Cause of death: not yet clear.
By Ayat S. Karokaro, 11th May 2016;

  • Government researchers are analyzing samples from the lake and should have a prognosis soon.
  • Hundreds of local volunteers have set about clearing the water of fish carcasses, which they fear will harm the ecosystem if left to fester for long.
  • The die-off means huge losses for local farmers.

When the sun rose over Indonesia’s giant Lake Toba on Wednesday last week, fish farmers saw that death in the night had visited their floating cages, and taken everything.

By Friday, millions of Carp (Common Carp) (Cyprinus carpio) and Tilapia (Nile Tilapia) (Oreochromis niloticus) had risen lifeless to the surface — ruinous losses for the aquafarmers.

The cause of death is not yet confirmed: government researchers are still analyzing samples from the lake. But early signs point to a precipitous drop in the water’s supply of dissolved oxygen, the suspected result of both natural and manmade causes.

One cage owner said that a week before the die-off began, the fish in their crowded cages appeared increasingly limp, and could be seen gasping to the surface for air.

Now, hundreds of volunteers are using heavy equipment and plastic bags to haul the stinking carcasses onto land. A giant hole has been prepared for their burial.

Lake Toba occupies the vast caldera of an ancient supervolcano whose eruption some 75,000 years ago ranks as one of the most violent events in geological history.

Volcanic activity is not thought to have triggered the fish deaths, though.

Krismono, a professor who works for the government, pointed to unfavorable weather. A lack of sun had shortcircuited oxygen production in the lake’s turbid depths, he said. It was possible that a mass of the depleted water had set off the catastrophe by rising to the top.

Overstuffed cages exacerbated the situation. “Cages should only have 3,000-5,000 fish, but these cages had 10,000 fish,” Krismono said.

Locals had also complained about water pollution, with some blaming aquaculture companies for contaminating the lake with uneaten food pellets and fish waste.

But the cages in Haranggaol, one of North Sumatra province’s biggest fish producing areas, are owned by individual small farmers.

“We can go bankrupt because of this,” said Hasudungan, a local aquafarmer.

Source: Mongabay

A bull elephant was found dead in West Aceh on April 13. Its tusks were missing; its trunk was severed from its body. Photos by Khaidar and Iwan

Indonesia: Two more Sumatran Elephants found dead in Aceh
By Junaidi Hanafiah and Chik Rini, 27th April 2015;

A pair of critically endangered Sumatran Elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus) were found dead this month in Indonesia’s Aceh province, just the latest casualties for a species that has been brought into increasing conflict with humans amid the country’s oil palm boom.

First, on April 13 in Kareung Hampa village, West Aceh regency, a bull elephant was found with its tusks missing and trunk severed about 150 meters from an oil palm estate belonging to Agro Sinergi Nusantara. It was thought to have perished a week earlier.

An autopsy revealed a bullet hole in the elephant’s head, likely the work of poachers in search of ivory, according to Genman Suhefti Hasibuan, the head of Aceh’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA).

Poachers have exploited the rising frequency of human-wildlife conflict to kill bull elephants near residential areas, he added.

“They slaughter elephants as is often done by people whose gardens they damage,” Genman said.

Then, on April 20 in Seumah Jaya village, East Aceh regency, residents alerted the authorities when they saw an injured elephant hobbling near their fields. Its right leg had been injured in a snare trap.

“The people immediately reported it to the BKSDA so the elephant could be treated and evacuated,” said Syahrul, a resident.

The creature perished shortly thereafter.

Since 2012, around 200 Sumatran Elephants have died out of a population of 1,700, according to the Indonesia Elephant Forum (FGI). Aceh alone has seen 36 casualties.

Environmentalists cited weak law enforcement as a major culprit.

“If the law is not enforced to prevent the killing of elephants, we could see their extinction in 10 years,” WWF-Indonesia’s Sunarto said.

The cases of elephant deaths, he added, are inseparable from human-wildlife conflict that has arisen as a result of the widespread conversion of elephant habitat into oil palm plantations.

“We need a comprehensive system overhaul and rearrangement of plantation zoning that do not threaten the habitat of protected wildlife like the Sumatran Elephant,” Sunarto said.

Acehnese environmental activist TM Zulfikar also urged the government to better protect the elephant.

“Everyone is waiting for concrete action from the government, especially law enforcement officials, to apprehend and prosecute wildlife poachers in Aceh,” he said. “This must be done, otherwise we will know [the Sumatran Elephant] by name only.”

Produced in English by Philip Jacobson.

Source: Mongabay

Indonesia: Elephant poaching soars as Sumatran forests turn into plantations

Reported kills for 2014 in Riau Province reached 22 by June, surpassing 2013 numbers by 63 percent
By Zamzami & Olivia Rondonuwu, 14th August 2014;

There has been a spike in elephant deaths in Sumatra this year, and conversion of rainforest to plantations is one of the main causes, according to the Indonesian Elephant Conservation Forum, or FKGI. The number of Sumatran Elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus) poached in the province of Riau so far this year is staggering, with 22 reported kills in the first six months of 2014 compared to 14 for the entirety of 2013.

FKGI – a group comprised of several NGOs and individuals promoting conservation of elephants and their habitat — said conversion of natural forest to industrial forest such as timber plantations has split open the ecosystem and provides hunters easy access to elephant areas.

The Sumatran Elephant is protected by Indonesia’s Law No. 5/1990 on Sustainable Natural Resources and Ecosystem Conservation. Due to a rapidly diminishing population, in 2011 the IUCN changed the status of the subspecies from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered – just one rung above extinction.

The ivory trade is thought to be the main motive of the recent spate of elephant deaths, with WWF Indonesia reporting most carcasses were devoid of tusks. Unlike African Elephants (Loxodonta spp.) that grow tusks regardless of sex, only male Asian Elephants have tusks.

The group said that 18 out of 22 elephant corpses were discovered near Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper’s (RAPP) concession area. The company is a subsidiary of APRIL, the pulp & paper division of the Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) Group, a conglomerate owned by Singapore-based businessman Sukanto Tanoto.

“The corpse of the [last] elephant was found in an acacia plantation just 50 meters from the main logging road and not far from a RAPP security checkpoint,” FKGI head Krismanko Padang said in a press statement.

Four other dead elephants were found in Hutani Sola, Balai Raja Elephant Training Center, which is the concession area of the firm Arara Abadi.

Security posts set up by timber plantation companies have been loose and unable to inspect people passing through the checkpoints, FKGI added.

“From the information we gather, hunters’ car often enter the plantation area but the security officers could not stop them,” Krismanko said.

To address the situation, FKGI called for industrial forest companies such as RAPP to play a more active role in protecting elephants roaming their concession by showing more responsibility, as well as pursuing poaching cases and determining the perpetrators and the motives behind the killings.

In the last decade, at least 142 elephants have been killed by poison or gunfire, but only a single case has been brought to court. That happened in 2005 in Mahato, Rokan Hulu district, and the perpetrator was sentenced to 12.5 years in jail for poaching, possessing a firearm and defying authorities.

Elephant deaths have also occurred at Tesso Nilo, one of the last remaining lowland rainforests on Sumatra, which has been designated the Center for Elephant Conservation by the Forestry Ministry. The deaths occurred in the concession areas of Rimba Peranap Indah, Siak Raya Timber and Arara Abadi in the Tesso Nilo forest block.

The head of Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said investigation of elephant deaths is difficult. This is due to a lack of available funds and human resources, as well as the difficulty in finding witnesses, as the places where killings take place are often very remote.

“We are not making excuses but the reality is our human resources and funds are very limited. There are still other problems we need to tackle such as forest fires, illegal logging and forest encroachment,” said Kemal Amas, head of BKSDA.

According to Krismanko, attempts have been made to reach out to RAPP, with a request to RAPP management to convene and discuss the deaths. However, the request was denied by a company representative, who said they were unavailable due to the Islamic Eid holiday.

“It goes to show that Sumatran Elephant death is not a priority for RAPP,” Krismanko said. “So let RAPP’s image become bad in the eye of the people and consumers. Their commitment is questionable.”

Sunarto, a species specialist from WWF, said plantation firms whose area is part of elephant range should be active in conserving elephants and be willing to allocate space for their movements.

“The government should give incentives and appreciation to companies and people who helped save elephants,” Sunarto said. “The government must also enforce the law on those involved in damaging the habitat and even worse those who hunt and kill this highly intelligent and sociable animal.”

Source: Mongabay

Indonesia: Elephant poaching soars as Sumatran forests turn into plantations