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Elephant patrols safeguard jungle

Updated: 2015-02-12 07:39
By Agence France-Presse in Trumon, Indonesia (China Daily)

Aceh men keep a lookout for illegal logging, poaching

Indonesian men ride on Sumatran elephants as they patrol though dense jungle in the west of the tropical archipelago, warriors on the front line of the fight against illegal logging and poaching.

They trek alongside rivers, over rough terrain and deep into the rain forest in an area that is home to numerous endangered species, including orangutans and tigers, but which has suffered devastating deforestation in recent years.

 Elephant patrols safeguard jungle

Indonesian mahouts deployed as forest rangers ride their trained Sumatran elephants in the Trumon subdistrict of Aceh province, Indonesia, while on a patrol mission last month. Young Indonesian men use the elephants to patrol the dense jungle on Sumatra island in the west of the tropical archipelago. Chaideer Mahyuddin / Agence France-Presse

The sprawling Indonesian archipelago has large swaths of tropical forest, but vast tracts are being felled to make way for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations, destroying biodiverse habitats and adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the logging that takes place is illegal as it happens outside concessions granted to companies, but it is hard for authorities to keep track. Poaching of endangered species is also common, with elephants killed for their ivory and tigers for their pelts.

The elephant patrol project, run with communities in the Trumon district of Aceh province on Sumatra island, aims to give a helping hand.

It employs local men as mahouts, or elephant-keepers, who keep a lookout for illegal logging and poaching and report it to authorities.

Hendra Masrijal, 33, quit his job as a food vendor to become a mahout. He is among a group of about 25 keepers involved in the plan, including former separatists who fought against the central government until a peace deal was struck a decade ago.

"It makes me sad when I see pictures of elephants killed by poachers for their tusks," Masrijal said. "Their habitat is also being encroached (on) by farmers and villagers."

The patrols deep into the jungle last between two and seven days, with mahouts normally spending 15 to 20 days a month on expeditions.

The initiative covers a vast area of 27,000 hectares called the "Trumon Wildlife Corridor", which is wedged between two conservation areas. Authorities are currently trying to push through legislation to give it protected status.

As well as keeping a watch for logging and poaching, the program has staff who conduct training in local communities and develop eco-tourism to give villagers who have traditionally lived off illegal practices an alternative livelihood.

Tisna Nando, a spokeswoman for USAID, which has funded the expansion of the project over the past year, said communities were "enthusiastic" about the initiative.

"They see that they can actually benefit economically from protecting the forest in the area, rather than cutting it down," she said.

A study last year published in the journal Nature Climate Change showed that Indonesia had for the first time surpassed Brazil in its rate of tropical forest clearance, despite a moratorium on new logging permits imposed several years ago.

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