Palm oil’s war on elephants escalating in Tesso Nilo National Park

EoF News / 25 February 2014

EoF News (PEKANBARU)-Seven elephants were found dead on 21 February just outside Tesso Nilo National Park in Riau, Sumatra. Their skeletons were found close to each other, an indication of death by poison. The park has seen escalating encroachment by syndicates illegally growing oil palms to feed the world’s ever growing demand for the wonder oil. Unfortunately, the illegal oil palm plantations are very attractive food for the elephants whose native forests they replaced. Often their angry owners retaliate and poison the elephants.

Killing of elephants in and around this national park has dramatically increased since 2012: a total of 33 elephants have been found dead, many more may have remained undetected. If forest loss and elephant killings do not slow down, Tesso Nilo’s elephant population might go extinct in less than 10 years.

Tesso Nilo’s illegally grown oil palm fruits find their way into the global economy fast. Some of the biggest companies in the business operate mills near the park. WWF investigated the supply routes of the oil fruit from inside the national park to crude palm oil (CPO) mills operated by Wilmar and Asian Agri and on to refineries at Riau’s port city Dumai. From there refined palm oil is shipped to factories around the world where it is processed into anything from margarine to lipsticks.

Oil palm has long been Sumatra’s top elephant killer. Angry farmers spread poison on leaves or inject it into fruits after elephants have fed in the plantations that have replaced their forests. Poisons that can kill elephants are readily available in 30 plus shops around the park, ready for use by the illegal growers in their plantation operations.

The tusks of all six males in the group had been cut off. Female Sumatran elephants do not carry tusks. Yet, poaching for ivory does not appear to be the primary reason for the mass killings here though the ivory is a very lucrative by product.

Today, WWF called on the government of Indonesia to identify and prosecute the killers and to return the park to their original occupants the elephants, the tigers and the many other species of wildlife. Oil palm plantations already cover millions of hectare in Indonesia, they do not need to be established even inside the few precious wildlife reserves the country has. Resident palm oil companies are facilitating these killings by providing a market. Without their purchases of the illegally grown oil fruits growers would have no reason to operate inside the national park.

In 2009, 330 elephants had been estimated to have survived in nine separate ranges in Riau, a province which in 1985 had had the largest elephant population in Sumatra with over 1,600 individuals.

Eyes on the Forest today published data on illegal palm oil trade from and elephant killings in Tesso Nilo at its Google based interactive map. Today, Eyes on the Forest publish a demo map to highlight the situation. Below is a quick view of the map: