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ENDANGERED: The Sumatran Elephant

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Sumatran elephants are characterised by a loving nature; grieving their loved ones and risking their lives for their young. But they are also victims of deforestation, poaching and habitat loss, and this animal is yet another species dangerously close to being completely lost as a result of human activity.

 

CEphoto on Wikipedia

Image Credit: CEphoto on Wikipedia 

 

After losing 'half of its population' in just 'one generation', the Sumatran elephant was named “critically endangered” in 2012, with just 2,400-2,800 remaining, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the Sumatran elephant is one of several species declining in population due to the expansion of palm oil plantations, illegal logging, and human-animal conflict.

One of three subspecies of Asian elephants, the Sumatran elephant is distinguished by the small size of its tusks and light skin colour

The caring nature of the animal is unmistakable, with many having been witnessed grieving dead herd members and mothers often risking their lives attempting to save young ones that are targetted by illegal animal trading.

Despite all Asian elephants being endangered, Sumatra has experienced the highest rates of deforestation in Asian elephants' territory, resulting in local extinctions throughout the region. There has been 'recorded local extinction in 23 out of the 43 identified ranges of their habitat'. Those figures mark statistics before 2008. Since then, the situation has only got worse.

But this is not just detrimental for the animals themselves. Feeding on a variety of plants and seeds as they travel, the species contributes to a healthy forest eco-system, something humans cannot claim to be doing.

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Image Credit: Rainforest Action Network on Flickr

 

With pulp and paper industries and palm oil plantations causing rapid habitat loss in the island’s Riau province, deforestation has impacted many other local Sumatran species, including the Sumatran rhinoceros, tiger, and orangutan.

Human-elephant conflict is cited by WWF as another primary reason for the animal’s decline, with elephants being forced to enter human settlements, trampling farms and crops on a search for food and water. At this point, many are poisoned or shot in retaliation, despite the fact that it is humans themselves that have caused the animals to leave their forest homes.

According to CNN, this human conflict combined with habitat loss has contributed to an 80% loss in population since the 1930s. While the highest number of Sumatran elephants was found in Riau province in the 1980s at 1,342, populations decreased to just 201 in 2007.

Although the average lifespan of the Sumatran elephant is usually between 60 years and 75 years in captivity, many in the wild are barely reaching the 60-year mark due to such a destruction of their environment, as well as poaching.

What is being done?

In light of the rapid decline of Asian elephants, including the Sumatran elephant, and other species affected by palm oil production, there has been public outcry toward the unsustainable nature of the industry. Such recognition has played an essential part in encouraging the public and large companies to boycott the industry and opt for sustainable alternatives.

However, despite huge recognition last year following the Iceland advert, which outlined palm oil concerns, the topic has dropped from the media radar and the industry continues to expand and have detrimental effects on species which call the forests their homes.

In light of this, organisations such as WWF continue to work to combat the issue to prevent total extinction of vulnerable species. Environmental organisations globally have shed light on the palm-oil issue, with many calling on governments and palm oil companies to acknowledge the harmful impact it is having.

In order to combat the human-elephant conflict, WWF among other local companies have set up ‘Elephant Flying Squads’, using rangers, noise and light-making devices, trucks, and trained elephants to drive those in the wild away from villages and into forests.

The elephants used are in captivity and are unfit to be released back into the wild.

As well as this, environmental organisations are pushing for more protected areas to ensure animal habitats are safe from deforestation, agriculture, and habitat destruction. A 'breakthrough' in 2004 saw Tesso Nilo National Park declared as a protected area, which cast some hope on the dire situation for animals across the region.

However, with the Sumatran elephant still being listed as critically endangered, much more has to be done to prevent the extinction of these loving creatures. The costs of consumerism and greed are evidently unsustainable and humans must curb their wasteful ways to save the habitats of these innocent creatures.

Lead Image: CEphoto on Wikipedia 

 




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