The Sumatran Elephant is one of the four existing Asian elephant sub-species and is found only on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. The other three sub-species are the Sri Lankan Elephant (Sri Lanka), the Indian Elephant (India to Malaysia) and the Borneo Elephant (Indonesia).
They weigh up to five and a half tons and grow up to three meters high. Females and young elephants roam in herds, of up to twenty five individuals, that are led by a matriarch. Male elephants grow tusks and live a mostly solitary life.
Sumatran Elephant – Mother and Calf
Sumatran Elephants live up to sixty years and feed on grasses, roots, bark and fruit. These elephants can breed from between the ages of ten to twelve years. Female pregnancy lasts between eighteen and twenty three months. The female elephants usually reproduce once every four years.
The ideal habitat of the Sumatran Elephant is the lowland forests of Sumatra. Sumatran Elephants are constantly on the move. Alexander Mossbrucker from the Frankfurt Zoological Institute concluded that an elephant population of 100 individuals would need 2,000 square km of habitat to roam. Another study conducted on one female elephant in Bengkulu province in 2007-2008 found that her home range was around 100 square km.
The total Sumatran Elephant population in the 1980s was estimated to be 3,800 individuals spread over 44 populations. An island-wide survey carried out in 2007 for the Ministry of Forestry estimated the population to be 2,600 wild elephants, having decreased by 35% since 1992. In 2014 WWF estimated the population at 1,724.
A Sumatran Forest
The main reason for the sharp decline in the overall species population is the destruction of the elephant’s natural habitat. Forests are being cut down in Indonesia to make way for agriculture. This causes forest fragmentation that is a well-known cause of animal population collapse and extinction of species. Moreover, the female’s long gestation period, the intervals between pregnancies and the fact that females give birth to only one calf per pregnancy, makes these elephants particularly vulnerable to human predation. We must remember that when people start to kill off another species they do not stop until the very last individual of the species is killed or dies – this is documented historical fact.
40% of the lowland forests in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo were cleared by humans in the fifteen years between 1990 and 2005.
Cutting and burning of forests started in the early 1900s to make way for the cultivation of coffee and oil drilling in Northern Sumatra. More forests areas were later cleared for the pulp & paper industry. The last nail in the coffin of the Sumatran Elephants’ habitat was the felling of forests since the 1980s to make way for the industrial farming of oil palms for the palm oil industry. Palm oil is found in half the products on your supermarkets’ shelves.
Clearing Forest for Agriculture in Sumatra
A Greenpeace 2018 report called “Dying for a Cookie” explains how twelve brands are using palm oil from 20 suppliers that are all allegedly at fault for destroying the rainforests in Indonesia. Those that are cited as using the tainted plam oil product are: Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, L’Oreal, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Reckitt Benckiser and Unilever.
The report found a total of 25 palm oil suppliers had cleared more than 320,000 acres (130,000 hectares) of rainforest since the end of 2015. That is an area almost twice the size of Singapore that has been destroyed in less than three years.
The instances of human-elephant conflicts, caused by the human invasion of the elephant’s ancestral habitats, have increased exponentially in past decades. To counter this the Indonesian government had started a policy of relocating elephants to so-called ‘Elephant Training Centres’. This policy failed as most of these elephants died during capture or soon afterwards.
The Indonesian government’s new strategy now is to protect certain key habitats and to encourage farmers to call environment officials to deal with the intrusion of wild elephants.
Oil Palm Plantation in Sumatra
It is estimated that by the end of 2019 the total population of this elephant sub-species was not higher than 1,800, and could be as low as 1,300, spread over increasingly diminishing populations in forest remnants and fragments across Sumatra. The prospects are not good. The main threats to the elephants’ life today are monoculture farming on an industrial scale, such as that of the oil palm, and a government that does not give any value to the natural world without which the human species would have never come to exist, let alone survive, reproduce and thrive – the ignorance demonstrated by policymakers of the most basic understanding of life on Earth, is staggering.
Main Source; The Spice Route End
Related article: How Species Become Extinct
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