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Human-animal conflicts as Aceh forests cut down

Jakarta Globe - October 28, 2009

Nurdin Hasan, Banda Aceh – Wild animal attacks in Aceh, particularly by elephants and Sumatran tigers, are highlighting the worsening conflict between wildlife and humans owing to the increasing destruction of natural habitat caused by illegal logging.

On Tuesday evening, about 17 elephants in a remote area in Geumpang, Pidie district, destroyed three houses and ate the owners' rice stocks.

"In the last few days, the elephants have also destroyed tens of hectares of rice fields which were ready to harvest, not to mention other crops like cacao and coconut," said Muhammad Gapi, a local resident.

Muhammad said the three families whose houses were destroyed had moved to the homes of relatives. "We cannot do anything about the elephant attacks. They even chase people that they come across on the street," he said.

Muhammad Sabi Basyah, a local public figure, said the locals had reported the problem to the Pidie district administration but no action had been taken. The elephants have been attacking residences in the area for the last two months.

In January, two girls were killed when wild elephants entered their plantation in Seulawan Montain, Laweueng, Pidie district.

Elephant attacks have also occurred in other regions like Aceh Jaya, West Aceh, East Aceh, and South Aceh. There have also been tiger attacks in Aceh, including an incident in South Aceh last week.

Munawar Kholis, a veterinarian from the Wildlife Conservation Society in Banda Aceh, said that in the last three years there have been at least 17 incidents between animals and humans.

The attacks have been blamed on the shrinking forest cover, despite the logging moratorium issued by the Aceh government in the middle of 2007.

And the problem is not only being seen in the province but in other parts of the country as well, as wild animals lose their shelter and sources of food.

According to data from Greenomics Indonesia, a policy development institute, between 2006 and 2009, more than 200,000 hectares of forest were cut down to supply the wood needed for post-tsunami reconstruction.

"It's no wonder there are so many natural disasters like floods and droughts," Vanda Meutia Dewi, Greenomics coordinator, said on Sunday in Banda Aceh.

Although Governor Irwandi Yusuf introduced a moratorium more than two years ago, illegal logging remains rampant.

Temporary leader of the Aceh Legislative Council, Hasbi Abdullah, said: "Aceh's legislature is committed to saving the forest by establishing a special environmental commission to handle forestry and environmental issues. If we fail, then in the next four years, Aceh will enter an ecological emergency, threatening economic activity."

However, Irwandi claimed the logging moratorium hadn't failed because some 500,000 hectares of forest had been saved through the rejection of felling licenses.