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Death of Aceh wild elephant creates national outcry

Jakarta Post - July 19, 2013

Hotli Simanjuntak and Nadya Natahadibrata, Banda Aceh/Jakarta – More than 7,400 people have joined an online campaign calling on the government to launch a probe into the death of a wild elephant in Aceh.

A Sumatran elephant on Sunday was found dead in a vacant lot in Ranto Saboh village, Aceh. The elephant had sustained injuries to his head and his tusks and eyes had been removed, while his trunk was detached from his body.

Aceh resident Aulia Ferizal signed the online petition on change.org on Wednesday and by Thursday afternoon the petition had already garnered 7,400 supporters, each of whom were mourning the death of the 30-year-old elephant locally known as Genk.

"We hope the President, Forestry Ministry and Aceh Police thoroughly investigate the death. An incident such as this one should never occur again," the petition said.

The Aceh Conservation Response Unit (CRU), which found the carcass while patrolling, said Genk was often seen roaming in local residents' fields. Such behavior, however, appeared to have drawn resentment from locals.

"We estimate that the elephant died three days before the carcass was found. There's growing speculation that the elephant was killed using a spear-trap in an attempt to take his tusks," said CRU head Sampoiniet. The price of elephant tusks ranges from Rp 5 million (US$495) to Rp 10 million per kilogram. The weight of Genk's tusks is estimated to be around 25 kilograms.

Data from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia said at least 18 wild elephants had been killed in Aceh since 2012. Most had died following conflicts between them and local residents.

In the past ten years, at least 129 elephants were killed in Sumatra. WWF data said the elephant population in Indonesia had significantly decreased to only around 2,400 from around 5,000 in 1985.

"Even though dozens of elephants were killed in Aceh, none of the cases were solved by law enforcement agencies," Chik Rini, a representative from WWF Indonesia said.

Chik said that the WWF had urged the local administration to launch a probe to find the perpetrators of the killings.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, meanwhile, expressed his concern over the violent death of the elephant via his Twitter account on Monday. "I have instructed the authorities to prosecute the perpetrators and prevent this from happening again," Yudhoyono said.

Meanwhile, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan also issued a public statement via his Twitter account on Tuesday, saying that those found guilty of assaulting protected animals would face up to five years in prison.

"However, we have to admit that we lack forest rangers," Zulkifli said. "Currently, one forest ranger is responsible for guarding 30,000 hectares [of forest]. It is not an easy task," he said.