Sumatran elephants face extinction

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The Independent Online

The number of Sumatran elephants in parts of Indonesia has dropped by 75 per cent in the past six years, raising the possibility they could become extinct in the near future, according to an environmental group.

WWF Indonesia said the decline in Riau province - on Indonesia's largest island of Sumatra- is mostly due to the rapid conversion of forest habitat into palm oil and paper plantations. As a result, conflicts between humans and elephants have risen, with 45 elephants either shot or poisoned since 2000 and 16 people killed by the animals.

Hundreds more elephants were captured and removed from forest areas, often dying in captivity. The remaining populations number less than 400 in Riau, down from 709 in 1999. "This escalating situation not only spells disaster for elephants but is also a huge problem for Riau's local people," WWF said. "Without improved management, elephants could face extinction in another five years."

WWF called on the Indonesian government to treble the size of the Tesso Nilo National Park to 100,000 hectares (247,100 acres) while increasing the number of teams that help avert conflicts between elephants and humans. A squad consists of four rangers and trained elephants who drive wild elephants back into the forest if they enter a village.

Wilistra Danny, chief of the government-run conservation board in the Riau town of Pekanbaru, agreed elephants were under threat and said the government was considering expanding the national park.

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