Background: Riau Province
The elephant population probably represents the largest assembly of elephants in Sumatra. Over the past 20 years, it has increasingly become fragmented due to large-scale conversion of forest for transmigration schemes and for timber and oil-palm plantations.
Riau has no major protected areas for its approximately 700 elephants. Instead, Sumatra's elephants survive in small forest parcels surrounded by homesteads, oil palm and timber plantations, and logging concessions.
Impacts of Elephant Training Camps
Human / elephant conflict has been rampant for many years. The Riau Forestry Office's solution has been to catch many of the conflict elephants and them into Elephant Training Camps (ETC).
They are thus removed from the active population gene pool and often suffer under inadequate holding conditions. Resentment against the raiding elephants runs high among the human population as everybody is affected.
Over the past 20+ years, large logging companies have cut roads and even major transit corridors into Riau's forests.
Rampant illegal logging
Logs are collected at transfer stations and brought out on huge trucks. After the large-scale logging operations have closed down, timber poachers often move into the area along the logging roads.
After the loggers and timber poachers have gone through, the remaining forest is often cleared to make way for plantations and home gardens, sometimes officially, sometimes illegally. Humans thus claim elephant habitat for their own use.
Conflict of interest
Elephants are either left with too little food in the forest and have to feed in the plantations and gardens, or the new human-grown food is so delicious compared to the "old forest fare" that they come and feed on it. A conflict of interest is initiated. Often the Conservation Division of Riau's Forest Department (FD) is called in to mitigate the conflict.
Little kerosone lanterns vs elephants
The pressure by residents as well as politicians on the Riau FD to 'do something' about the elephant raids is enormous. They usually recommend the use of electric fences and/or trenches before doing anything else. Often, however, settlers are too poor for such installations and try to scare raiding elephants away with little kerosene lanterns.
Removing the offenders
Lanterns and improperly maintained fences are rather ineffective, so over the past ten years, Government 'higher ups' demanded the capture and removal of offending elephants. Pak Nukman leads Riau's elephant "SWAT" team, which captures wild elephants using tame kunkhies, elephants specially trained for this task.
Most ETC elephants are trained to perform basic handling tasks and simple tricks. Once trained, groups of them move about the province and give performances to the local population, generating food for them and income for their trainers.