Major flooding hitting three districts in Rokan Hulu regency, Riau, has forced scores of wild elephants out of their habitat and into the nearby oil palm plantations of local residents.
The presence of the wild animals, which have appeared in the evenings over the last three days, has caused restlessness among residents of Kasiamang hamlet in Kepenuhan district.
Afraid that the animals will destroy their plants, the villagers — also severely affected by the flooding — have kept a close watch over their plantations.
This vigilance has also been expensive, requiring money to run generators to power bright spotlights and install electrified wire gates to drive the elephants away.
Kepenuhan district head Dedi Sanjaya said Thursday that he believed the animal’s habitat was submerged so they had sought safer areas. “Both Kepenuhan and Bonai Darussalam districts are located at the crossroads of the paths of the animals. As the elephants were trapped by the flooding, they ventured into nearby areas,” he said.
Dedi said he informed the Rokan Hulu forestry and plantation office to seek ways to prevent the elephants from returning to his plantations.
“The latest information I got is that the problem has been reported to the Riau office of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) and in several days, there will be a team with the support of trained elephants to help drive the wild animals away,” he said.
“They [the wild elephants] have to be captured or at least driven away. Local villagers have been traumatized by the wild elephants. There have been many houses damaged by the beasts and even several years ago, a villager was trampled to death by scores of wild elephants,” he added.
Aside from flooding, rampant illegal logging and the rapid rate of forest conversion have contributed to the destruction of animals’ natural habitats.
Last February, a herd of 12 wild elephants had also ventured into Mahato, Mahato Sakti and Rantau Sakti villages in North Tambusai district, Rokan Hulu regency.
The efforts to drive the herd away only seemed to have moved the animals, which had been displaced by land clearing in the area, from one place to another within the three subdistricts.
The elephants were first spotted in Mahato, where they destroyed nearly 50 hectares of an oil palm plantation, a rubber tree plantation and farmland.
The regency forestry and plantation agency later deployed animal tamers to drive the elephants away, but they failed. BKSDA Riau later used two tamed elephants to herd the animals into the forest and succeeded in four days.
The same herd of elephants was also spotted in neighboring Mahato subdistrict, where it destroyed dozens of hectares of oil palm plantation and a plantation caretaker’s hut.