Residents dwelling around Way Kambas National Park (TNWK) say they are feeling threatened by wild elephants over the past several weeks. The elephants have also caused fear among travelers using the Sumatran eastern route as the animals frequently cross the road, sometimes in dozens.
“Previously, elephants used to enter farms and rice fields only, but lately they have been appearing in built up areas. If we drive them away, they turn around and cross the eastern route, a traffic hazard,” said Sarwadi, a resident in Rajabasa Induk village, Labuhan Ratu, East Lampung, on Thursday.
The villagers make bonfires around their homes to scare away the elephants.
“But it rains almost everyday, so it’s hard to build a bonfire. We fear the elephant herd will attack us in the dark,” said Sarwadi.
He added the wild elephants had already destroyed dozens of hectares of cassava and rubber farms in Rajabasa Induk village. Forest rangers from TNWK had to use tame elephants to help drive away the wild herd.
Elephants have also been entering other buffer villages, such as in Labuhan Ratu 6 and Labuhan Ratu 9 villages in Labuhanratu district and Brajakencana village in Braja Selebah district.
Labuhanratu 9 villager Erwin said around 40 elephants from TNWK rampaged cassava and rubber farms owned for two successive nights, destroying at least 5 hectares of cassava farms.
“If farmers don’t patrol the border between TNWK and farms, dozens of elephants will destroy hundreds of hectares of crops,” said Erwin.
TNWK spokesman Sukatmoko said the herd of elephants were surviving in Way Penet River, bordering TNWK, and had been driven back into the jungle. Sukatmoto said wild elephants were unable to stay in the area because they were obstructed by the villagers.
“If the elephants cross the river, they’ll damage the ripening rice crops, so the villagers are conducting patrols,” he said.
The villagers plan to demand TNWK authority compensate the damage caused by the elephants.
“Dozens of hectares of cassava farms were destroyed following the attack. In total, they have already destroyed hundreds of hectares of cassava farms in the district,” said Dedy.
Last year, the elephants also attacked farms and rice fields in 22 villages near TNWK. Residents were aggravated by the attacks because the animals would return despite being driven away with torches, drums and warning air shots.
Thousands of residents in dozens of villages are currently facing harvest failure. The elephants have devastated the rice, cassava, corn and coffee crops.
Sayuti, secretary of the Buffer Village Discussion Forum, a community group of villages bordering TNWK, said human-elephant conflicts in TNWK had existed for more than 30 years and complained about the lack of sound solution to the problem.
“We have not listed the amount of loss due to harvest failure. The loss could roughly reach Rp 1 billion [about US$100,000] every year. If the elephants destroy our crops, we’ll have difficulty putting food on the table. We hope the central government pays serious attention to this,” said Sayuti.
Lampung chapter Indonesian Forum for the Environment director Hendrawan said more violent elephant attacks indicated their habitat had been impacted. “Beside the depleting forest, the areas subject to elephant attacks have for a long time been their pathway. They return in larger numbers despite being driven away,” said Hendrawan, adding the best solution was to preserve the forest in TNWK because illegal logging remains rampant there.