Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post, Pekanbaru
Ongoing clashes between humans and elephants has prompted Riau province to establish a team led by Riau Deputy Governor Wan Abu Bakar whose powers will extend to drafting new ordinances.
The team was established early this week following a coordination meeting in Pekanbaru involving seven Riau city and regency administrations and Forestry Ministry officials.
There were 10 incidents there this year, in which 13 villagers were killed and another 13 injured, according to data from Riau's Natural Resources Conservation Center. So far, there have been 29 reported incidents this year, slightly lower than the 32 reported in 2006.
Forestry Ministry official Toni Suhartono said areas prone to human-elephant conflict included Kuantan Sengingi, Indragiri Hulu, Bengkalis, Rokan Hulu, Siak and Pelalawan regencies.
"The highest rate of conflict is in Pelalawan regency, where most of the reports came from," said Toni.
Meanwhile, Kampar recorded seven cases, Bengkalis six, Indragiri Hulu three, and Rokan Hulu, Siak and Kuantan Singingi one case each, all during 2007. At least 700 hectares of palm oil and 120 hectares of rubber plantation were ravaged by herds of wild elephants with more than 40,000 palm oil trees and 35 homes were destroyed.
Toni blamed conflicts on the declining habitat of wild elephants -- aggravated by too few forest rangers patrolling Tesso Nilo National Park.
"The number of forest rangers is far from adequate. Ideally, there should be 39 rangers patrolling the 38,576-hectare park, or one ranger per thousand hectares.
"However, there are only seven rangers and three administrative staffers there. So, there is a stark difference between our needs and the number of workers," said Toni.
Two years ago the provincial administration announced a plan to extend the park to 100,000 hectares, to provide more habitat for the elephants -- but it has yet to do so.
"Negotiations with two forest concession companies in the area are underway," said Toni.
Riau Conservation Center official Rachman Siddiq, however, blamed the timber companies for the delay.
"They cannot be relocated in the same simple manner as the elephants," said Rachman.
"Relocating the timber companies (currently in) the area which has been plotted for the park extension is one of the tasks for the Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation Team."
Deputy Governor Wan Abu Bakar is in favor of removing the forest concessionaires from the conservation area.
Team leader Abu Bakar said, "We must have a strong policy so that the function of the conservation area be maintained."