Monday, January 4, 2010

Man and Elephant in Conflict

Rumble in the Jungle: Man And Elephants Fight It Out in Jambi’s Forests

Sekutur Jaya, Jambi. Despite its serenity, complete with smiling, laid-back people, a serious problem is weighing heavily upon this remote village in central Sumatra.

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Just mention “Elephas maximus sumatranus,” or the Sumatran elephant, and the serenity and smiles are replaced by fear, angry comments and a sense of helplessness.

Since 2002, herds of wild elephants have continually rampaged through palm oil plantations belonging to residents of Sekutur Jaya, destroying their crops and leaving angry farmers at their wits’ end, as well as worried about their food security. The fact that the elephants are an endangered species, and are merely reacting to human encroachment into their habitat, does little to mollify the villagers.

Sekutur Jaya was only founded in 1997 by transmigrants from Java and Sumatra.

“Could you please give me the forestry minister’s phone number? I’d like to tell him about our despair,” Sukur Rahmat, 58, the weary-looking village head, told visiting journalists from the Jakarta Globe.

As the lowest-ranking government representative in the area, Sukur is not only the depository for frequent complaints from the 275 families in the village, but is also one of the them, as the herds also affect his farm. “This week, those beasts came every day, destroying our palm oil fields,” Sukur said, taking a deep breath.

Their sense of helplessness is understandable: What can a group of villagers do against an angry pack of pachyderms, most weighing several thousand pounds or more?

That’s not to say they haven’t tried. Every Thursday night, villagers walk to the fields to recite from the Koran, praying that the wild elephants will go away. They’ve also reported the problem to less divine authorities, including the district chief and Jambi’s governor, but no solution has been forthcoming.

“It’s very frustrating to see palm oil trees that you take care of every day destroyed by wild elephants,” said Lukman, a transmigrant from East Java. “It seems that we don’t have a future anymore.”

“Where else can we go now?” Fauzi, another resident, said emotionally. “I started my field with 245 palm oil trees, now there are only 39 left.”

Fauzi said he no longer had the energy to continue farming and attempting to fight back, and he’s not alone. Comments from numerous other villagers ranged from “I’m ready to leave this place” to “How come nobody will help us?”

The root of the problem, unfortunately, is beyond the comprehension of these palm oil farmers. Long before the first houses were erected in Sekutur Jaya, Sumatran elephants roamed through the area. The

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