Indonesia

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Background

Other than a small number of Bornean elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) in northeast Kalimantan, part of the wider population of Malaysian Sabah. Indonesia's elephants are found on the island of Sumatra, where the distinct subspecies (Elephas maximus sumatranus) was reclassfied "critically endangered" in January 2012.

The estimated wild population of 2,400 - 2,800 has become scattered and isolated in pockets of forest, thanks to the second most rapid rate of deforestation in the world. Poor land use planning and the growth of oil palm plantations and smallholder farms have brought people and wild elephants into close proximity, leading to conflict when the latter eat and damage crops. A herd of elephants can destroy an entire farm’s crops in a single night; consequently elephants are often poisoned and shot in retaliation, especially if human life is threatened.

The Indonesian government used to deal with these conflicts by capturing elephants found outside the forest. It is estimated that two out of three elephants died during their capture, while those that survived were sent to ‘Elephant Training Camps’ and subjected to a brutal ‘taming’ process for a life in captivity, claiming the lives of many more. Between 2004 - 2009, two hundred elephants involved in conflict situations were captured from the wild and held at these elephant camps, which were poorly equipped, and lacked trained vets, shade, water and other key facilities. In many cases, they were unable to meet basic food requirements or healthcare, and the elephants were left languishing, slowly starving to death or poisoned by festering wounds.

There are currently as many as 300 Sumatran elephants still in captivity on the island. Isolated herds of wild elephants are rapidly disappearing, and with the threats to those that remain as relentless as ever, it is important that the care of these captive elephants is integrated with conservation activities.