The Natural Resources Conservation Agency ( BKSDA ) Riau has come up with a novel way to protect farms and villages from wild elephants: guard elephants.
The initiative, in Bencah Kelubi village, Tapung district in Kampar regency, Riau, hopes to limit the number of wild elephants that trample across hundreds of hectares of oil palm farms.
BKSDA's head of conservation technics, Syahimin, said the decision to use trained elephants, from the Minas Elephant Training Center ( PLG ), was in response to residents complaints about the economic losses they suffered as a result of the wandering elephants.
'The elephants from Minas PLG are trained to expel wild elephants and not for other purposes,' Syahimin said on Tuesday, admitting that wild elephants often ventured into human settlements.
Besides Bencah Kelubi, wild elephants also frequently wandered into settlements in Pinggir district in Bengkalis regency and Langgam district in Pelalawan regency.
'The Riau BKSDA will continue to supervise and immediately expel wild elephants if they cause material loss,' he said.
'Actually, a team from the BKSDA and the Kampar Forestry Agency drove out wild elephants in Tapung last week. The herd may again wander into the area and have to be driven out again.'
When dealing with wild elephants in Pinggir and Bencah Kelubi elephants from Minas PLG were always used while the control of wild elephants at Tesso Nila Block in Pelalawan was carried out by elephants from the Riau BKSDA and World Wildlife Fund for Nature's Flying Squad, added Syahimin.
Bencah Kelubi resident Wildan Nazri said the wild herd consisted of 12 elephants.
'At least 200 hectares of oil palm trees aged between two and five years were damaged by the herd. We are confused where to turn for compensation. Years of sweat and toil were damaged instantly,' said Wildan.
An oil palm watchman hut was also not spared by the elephants.
'The wild elephants like to eat rice, that's why they damaged the hut. We can only resign to our fate as we are helpless and the response from the government is always slow,' he added.
Local residents said the elephants to blame for the damage to their farms were under the care of the Minas PLG. 'They often come here. They may be released intentionally to save money on animal feed,' said Wildan.
However, Syahimin denied the accusation saying Minas PLG had never been short of elephant feed and the elephants were never released without supervision.
'It is very easy to prove it, just look at their feet. If they're chained, they are from Minas PLG. Otherwise, they are wild,' he said.
Syahimin said the Bencah Kelubi area was included in the habitat of wild elephants in Balai Raja, Bengkalis.
'The territorial range of wild elephants is fixed, at a certain time, they will revisit their old stomping ground,' said Syahimin.