Issues: Habitat loss and fragmentation

Slash and burn in Tesso Nilo, Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia rel=
Slash and burn in Tesso Nilo, Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia
© WWF-Canon / WWF-Germany/A. Vedder

A widespread phenomenon as Asia's population grow

Asian elephants occur along a belt of Asia that is also home to about a billion and a half people.
India has less than 20% forest cover, Thailand has cleared most of its lowland forest and on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra, vast forests are being cleared to accommodate millions of people resettled from the crowded islands of Java, Bali and Madura.

This situation of forests being cleared to meet human needs is causing the loss of elephant habitat, and the situation is true in every region where elephants occur in the wild.

Habitat Loss
Extensive modification of elephant habitats by humans is resulting in contraction of the species' range and fragmentation of its distribution. About 20 per cent of the world's human population lives in or near the present range of the Asian elephant.

Habitat loss occurs through conversion of forests to plantations (tea, coffee, oil palm and rubber), encroachment by the human population living in and around elephant habitat and through human resettlement/transmigration projects.

Large forest expanses exist, but are threatened
Only a few countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia (Sabah) have large contiguous tracts of elephant habitat left. Even these habitats are not secure from threats of logging (both legal and illegal) and conversion to other forms of land-use.

Small homes
In some cases, the habitat seems to be too small to support the rhinos. For example, Javan rhinos are confined to an area of about 6,000 ha within a protected area of about 35,000 ha (Cat Loc sector of Cat Tien National Park). Rhinos are prevented from ranging further afield by a string of villages and associated trails within the protected area.

In Ujung Kulon National Park in Java (Indonesia), Javan rhinos numbers have not increased significantly for some years suggesting that carrying capacity might have been reached. WWF is funding studies to research habitat improvement to increase the rhinos’ natural food supply and working with government partners to increase the available area for rhinos through habitat restoration.

Habitat fragmentation
Large development projects (like dams, roads, mines, industrial complexes), plantations and spreading human settlements have fragmented what was once contiguous elephant habitat into small fragments.

Reduced elephant habitat leads to conflicts with humans
Elephants, being large bodied animals, need to range widely to fulfill their ecological requirements. Often individual elephants range over large areas (200 km² - 600 km²) and thus many elephant home ranges extend beyond these small fragments thus leading to increased elephant-human conflict where invariably elephants come off second best.

Cornered
In many cases the elephants are "pocketed" in small patches of forest, which cannot meet their food and water requirements, and from which they have no way to escape. It is during these times that conflict is acute leading to death of many people and elephants. Killing the elephants is not an acceptable option in many parts of Asia, particularly in India.

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