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Elephant Conflict Mitigation in Sumatra

March 31, 2017

The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) is known for elephant conservation projects in the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar join. However, they support a number of projects outside of the Golden Triangle which we will cover in the future. Although we have touched on their efforts outside of the Golden Triangle in Elephant Vet Without Borders on November 11, 2016 (set in the Mengyang Nature Reserve China), there are others in wild elephant habitats more further afield.

GTAEF and co-sponsor, Asian Elephant Support, have an interesting elephant conservation program as well under the direction of Dr. Christopher Stremme, the "elephant vet without borders," that is in the Way Kambas National Park (WKNP) in Sumatra, Indonesia. Although the author has not been to WKNP, you would not be surprised to learn that the author spent considerable time in Sumatra and other parts of Indonesia some forty years ago.

In fact, the Indonesian 30 September 1965 Movement of massive political upheaval and bloodshed depicted in the 1982 award winning film,
The Year of Living Dangerously, was replicated again on a smaller scale in real life on January 16, 1974 with the author having a front row seat. Although it was exciting, scenes such as the one shown below are best seen in the cinema without accompanying gun fire.

Accordingly, it is very reassuring to learn that another country with which the author had connections in the "black and white days" that was indifferent to human life has focused some measure of attention on animal conflict mitigation.

The Way Kambas National Park houses the Way Kambas Elephant Conservation Center which is home to 65 captive elephants. The national park also contains some 200 wild Sumatran elephants which is about 10% of the remaining population. Further, the park has other endangered wildlife such as Sumatran tigers, rhinoceros, Malayan tapir and white winged duck. As the park was once the center of the capture and training of wild elephants and still contains a number of illegal activities such as logging, poaching and land cultivation, it is an area rife with potential "human elephant conflict" situations. Moreover, the captive elephants have suffered from poor management, lack of fodder, medical attention, insufficient staff qualification and training, and lack of occupation and socialization of elephants. Now, here comes the "elephant vet without borders," Dr. Christopher Stremme.

A series of photographs of Dr. Stremme's program will illustrate how these issues are being addressed. The food issue is obvious given the prodigious appetites of elephants.

Moreover, supplements are prepared to provide needed vitamins and minerals.

Dr. Stremme's program is one of few where captive elephants are employed to monitor the park relative to the wild elephant population with three Elephant Response Units. Each unit employs four to six elephants. The captive elephants have something for them to do which is very important, thereby providing exercise and social interaction with other elephants while patrolling the wild elephant population. Moreover, while on patrol, the captive elephants have access to a great variation of natural plant foods to augment their diet.

Lastly, Dr. Stremme is performing an ultra-sound examination on a pregnant elephant. Veterinary care is provided in collaboration with experienced Indonesian elephant veterinarians. Moreover, mahouts are given training in improved elephant care, handling and training procedures. They are engaged with their elephant's care. They are becoming conservationists and not just elephant handlers.

A major thrust of the entire effort is to build relationships with the residents in the park. Community groups are trained and assist to drive wild elephants back into the wild from the crops they have planted. An ongoing information exchange scheme by mobile phone between the Elephant Response Units and the local community groups has been established to ensure timely exchange of information about wild elephant occurrence and migration. The objective is to anticipate and mitigate potential "human elephant conflict" risks and incidents. Currently 18 villages benefit from this program.

The central message here is the "elephant vet without borders" is one truly dedicated individual who astutely draws upon the integration of his programs with the needs of the villagers and thereby enlisting their support to protect their own indigenous wildlife.


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