Oyos Saroso H.N., The Jakarta Post, Bandarlampung
The Lampung provincial government has announced plans to relocate residents of villages that have been attacked by elephants from South Bukit Barisan National Park.
Wild elephants have killed seven people in the West Lampung and Tanggamus regencies in the last year, as well as destroying villages and crops.
The provincial administration will work with the Bengkulu and West Lampung administrations as well as the West Lampung Forestry Office to immediately relocate residents of the Roworejo, Hantatai, Bandar Agung, Atarlebar and Ringing hamlets, all relatively new settlements located in Suoh district in West Lampung regency.
Lampung Governor Sjachroedin Z.P. said there was no other way to overcome the problem but move the residents. More than 10,000 people live in the new settlements, which are located within the national park and the elephants' natural habitat.
The national park encompasses dozens of villages, but most of them existed before the area was made an official national park.
Newer settlements, however, have emerged as a result of forest conversion and illegal logging in the national park.
Residents of these areas will be moved, with the exception of the Pengekahan, Belimbing, Way Haru and Kubu Perahu villages, which are regarded as legal settlements.
"The residents must immediately leave the areas, otherwise the conflict between the humans and elephants will continue," said Sjachroedin.
Lampung Forest Watch director Joko Santoso said that based on a joint study with the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), the elephants that had invaded the villages were all from the same herd.
"The elephants invaded the villages because the new settlements were in what had been their original movement areas. Based on that logic, the elephants are not wrong, but the humans who set up new villages inside that national park and the officials who allowed this to happen continue on," said Joko.
Residents of Suoh district left their homes a month ago, concerned that the animals would become more violent.
The most recent victim was Maryono, 50, of Pemangku Negeri Ratu hamlet in Suoh, who was trampled to death in March.
Male residents of Suoh district conduct night patrols and light torches around buildings to frighten the elephants away.
West Lampung Regent Erwin Nizar said that six elephants had invaded villages over the last two months, destroying three houses, a public facility and ruining farms.
He said the elephants had first been seen on Feb. 9. They moved from Pemangku Talang Kudus village to Pemangku Talang Lima village, before continuing to Suoh, Pemangku Sidorejo and Bandar Agung villages.
The herd destroyed the walls of an elementary school, power lines, farms and two houses in Talang Kudus, water pipes in Talang Lima and a house in Pemangku Negeri Ratu hamlet.
The South Bukit Barisan National Park, which extends from Tanggamus and West Lampung regencies in Lampung to Kaur regency in Bengkulu, is a native habitat of the Sumatran elephant.
The 363,000-hectare park, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is home to around 500 wild elephants.
The area is also the natural habitat of the Sumatran rhinoceros and tiger and other protected wild animals. However, the elephant population is threatened with extinction due to the rapid rate of deforestation by illegal logging, land clearance and forest conversion to make way for settlements and plantations.
"Herds of elephants invade human settlements every six months due to encroachment of their habitat by human settlements and illegal logging," Joko Santoso.
Data from the South Bukit Barisan National Park Center shows there are at least 15,000 squatters living in the area. The rate of forest destruction has reached more than 25 percent.
In an effort to save the Sumatran elephants, the WWF in April last year sent a letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urging every citizen and state agency to stop killing Sumatran elephants, either directly through poisoning, shooting or poaching, or indirectly through habitat encroachment.
The WWF has also urged local administrations and plantation companies to stop illegal forest conversion and stop issuing or revoke forest conversion licenses, especially those in Sumatran elephant habitat areas.