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Ballad Of Elephant Tamers In Indonesia’s Way Kambas National Park

The world's elephants are in crisis, and the population is shrinking drastically.

JAKARTA, Indonesia — On a cold morning after all night of rain making the trail look muddy in the forest in Way Kambas National Park (WKNP). Located in Lampung province, 240 kilometers (787440.00 feets) (787440.00 feet s) (787440.00 feet) northwest of Jakarta across the Sunda Strait, which covers 1,300 square kilometers of rainforest and coastal swamps on the southern side of Sumatra. It’s habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros, and elephant, including more than 400 species of birds and 50 species of mammals. The elephant population in TNWK in 2010 was 247 with an estimated range of 220 to 278 tails.

The Way Kambas National Park locations in Lampung province, southern Sumatra, Indonesia. It’s habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros, and elephant, including more than 400 species of birds and 50 species of mammals. RACHMAD IMAM TARECHA/ZENGER

Two mahouts, master elephant tamers, rushed off across the mud that morning. Edi Sutrisno and Masrukin, accompanied by three mahout companions left the Tegal Yoso Elephant Response Unit (ERU) Camp. From stepping onto the path, unveiling shrubs, and interspersed small gutters. They headed for the lowland open forest in human baby steps, but a big step for the preservation of the Sumatran elephants.

Two mahouts, master elephant tamers, rushed off across the mud that morning. Edi Sutrisno and Masrukin, accompanied by three mahout assistants, left the Tegal Yoso Elephant Response Unit (ERU) Camp. ARPAN RACHMAN/ZENGER

They will release seven tame elephants moored on  grass field on the village boundary. It is one kilometer away from the camp. If the weather does not rain heavily, they routinely take these giant animals to bathe in the river every morning. The herd of seven elephants is led by the oldest elephants named Karnangin and Karnangun. Ivory Karnangin is not a couple staying one because it is old. The age of the male elephant is more than 30 years.

Edi Sutrisno and Masrukin, accompanied by three mahout assistants, left the Tegal Yoso Elephant Response Unit (ERU) Camp. They release seven tame elephants tethered in the grass field at the village boundary, one kilometer from the camp. ARPAN RACHMAN/ZENGER

After being released, seven tame elephants immediately devoured the leaves greedily. The trunk of the beast was wrapped around the tree branch to reach the lush leaves, and then its petite mouth chewed softly, swallowing everything so quickly. However, the elephants obeyed the orders of the handler. When they told the giant creatures to stop eat a lot, the trunk of the beast stopped quickly wrapped around a tree branch.

Mahouts ride Karnangin and six flocks to a small river behind the camp. They rocked back and forth on their back while heaving the animal’s trot. ARPAN RACHMAN/ZENGER

Mahouts drove Karnangin and six herds into a small river behind the camp. They wobbled on their back while dragging the animal’s step. The rain that night caused the river to overflow, but this morning, the water discharge receded somewhat. Elephants drop their giant bodies into the depths. Mahouts brush the back and clean the dirt.

After taking a bath, Karnangin and Karnangun rested for a while. Two herds between the two will be taken on patrol through the forest. White the other five tails were brought back to their moorings in the thatched field.

“The number of tame elephants in the ERU is 27. Of the 27, five were captive, three were rescued from being trapped, sick, and left behind from their group, then kept by mahouts,” said Nazaruddin, who heads ERU camps.

“The trained elephants are then used for forest security patrols and  conflicts management between humans and wild elephants,” said the 57-year-old . For 38 years, Nazaruddin pursued his profession as a mahout. He led ERU in Way Kambas National Park program in collaboration with the Community for Sumatra’s Forests from 2011 until now.

The world’s elephants are in crisis, and the population is shrinking drastically, including one of its subspecies, the Sumatran elephant, estimated to range from 924 to 1,359 (Auriga, 2021).

Sumatran elephant population is around 2,400-2,800 wild individuals based on WWF (World Wildlife Fund) data collection. This animal is classified as critically endangered in Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as the number of its species is dwindling. The giant creature has steadily shrunk by an average of 35 average percent each year since 1992.

Eighty percent of the Sumatran elephant encalves are outside conservation area, according to Auriga. More than half of the elephant enclaves outside the conservation area are in the area of plantation forest, industrial plantation forests, mining area, and oil palm plantation.

In 2020, the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry updated the elephant enclave map. Compared to the previous map (2007), there was shrinkage of 1.3 million hectares of elephant habitat.

It was noon, it was almost nine o’clock. Two tame elephants, Karnangin and Karnangun, were ridden by handlers Edi Sutrisno and Masrukin with two assistants.

Two elephants enter the forest, exploring the Way Kambas National Park area. During the three-hour drive, they wandered around, searching  for where the newly discovered traces of wild elephants passed. Get to know the hunting sites that set to traps to ensnare these protected animals legally.

Communities with elephants can coexist without any equally detrimental conflict. Since their habitat in the forest has been lost, elephants forage for bribes to encroach on plantations and agricultural fields. Everything is disturbed because of the increasingly greedy land use change.

“We love these animals and don’t want to see elephants go extinct,” said mahout Masrukin.

There are five mahouts and six assistants living at Camp ERU. They take turns on a 10-day workday and five-days holiday system to replace the other people. The mahout ballad takes care of the Sumatran elephant in order to preserve the life of this animal.

“We tried how to tame elephants are then used for  forest patrols dealing with  conflicts between humans and wild elephants,” said Nazaruddin.

There are 27 tame elephants in ERU. After all, five captive breeding tails, three rescued from those  who were trapped, sick, and left behind from the herd, were then helped by ERU handlers. These elephants used to patrol, herd wild elephants, put out fires in case of forest fires, and increase populations.

Four ERU camps employ 68 people, including forest rangers, 21 mahouts as civil servants, and 38 people from local communities around the WKNP as mahouts and rangers.

Nazaruddin led community empowerment efforts in the buffer area. They are educated and also involved in the ERU team. Now, 70 percent of mahout members in the ERU community around the forest.

Prayitno, 49, is a villager who used to be illegal logger but is now a law enforcement officer as part of the ERU Patrol team.

“Initially, we thought of the forests in this National Park area as gold. But we can only look around without getting anything. That’s why  there are a lot of thefts” said Prayitno.

The gloomy story begins one day, his eldest son goes to kindergarten, but the tuition fee is less than two dollars. Frustrated at having no money, Prayitno goes to the forest to steal wood. The police arrested him, he spent four months in prison.

After Independence Day, he asked the village chief for permission to cultivate costomary land near the forest to create  a cornfield. From the harvest, he can support his family. Then Prayitno got to know Nazaruddin and was recruited to become a member of the ERU Patrol whose task was to monitor the area within the boundaries of the WKNP.

The biggest and deadliest threat to the elephant is ivory poaching. There are many perpetrators who may also be involved. Plus the shrinkage of their habitat due to forest clearing for palm oil plantations and pulp. Meanwhile, wild elephants are the fastest to adapt foraging, so only compulsion makes them encroach on farmer’s land.

Since 2011, the ERU has been operated in human-elephant conflict zones, abolished poaching practices within the National Park area, and indirectly helped  save Sumatra’s declining elephant numbers.

ERU’s Innovative efforts since the inception of these efforts, the incidence of wild elephants crossing into human settlements has decreased by more than 70 percent and reduced crop losses by more than 90 percent.

So far, the wild elephant cruising space has been monitored through the Global Positioning System (GPS) in the form of a necklace tied around the necks of six wild elephants in WKNP.

In the WKNP forest, the GPS collar installed for large groups of wild elephants consisting of 15 to 30 tails. There are still a few small groups left. This tool  makes it easier for Nazaruddin and his team to monitor the movements of wild elephants and provide warning  to villagers about the presence of wild elephants. The six GPS collars will add three to be installed again in 2023.

The  operation of ERU would be better if it utilized high technology based on artificial intelligence, such as the one  developed by the Wildlife Center at Gajah Mada University.

In the laboratory led by Muhammad Ali Imron, various studies on elephant conservation ranging from ecological aspects  to environmental control. They work closely with the Zoological Society of Frankfurt and the Natural Resources Conservation Agency.

Imron and his science team are developing an information system for mitigating human-elephant conflicts. Basic system on bioacoustics and Android applications, through as a scanner  based on sound technology.

“The device is used to record the sound of elephants so that they can detect the presence of elephants. The detection of the presence of elephants is in the information system which will later become an early detection of the presence of wild elephants,” said Imron.

Edited by Rachmad Imam Tarecha and Newsdesk Manager

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