Indonesia’s president spoke out against the killing of a critically endangered Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) last week, using his Twitter account to urge local authorities to take action in the case.
The large male elephant was found dead last Saturday morning near Rantau Sabon village in Indonesia’s Aceh province. The elephant’s face was crushed, its tusks had been removed and taken and its trunk was detached from its body. Photos of the grisly scene were quickly circulated via social media, generating over 10,000 mentions on Twitter less than 24 hours after the animal was found, prompting a response from the president and other high-level officials.
“This is irresponsible behavior in the month of Ramadan,” Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Monday through his Twitter account. “I’ve instructed them [local authorities] to pursue the perpetrator. Prevent it from ever happening again.”
Rangers from the Conservation Response Unit (CRU), which works to mitigate conflicts between animals and local communities, believe the animal was killed by a spear trap around 1:00 a.m. on Saturday. CRU rangers had been patrolling the village for several days after local residents said that two elephants had been entering their plantations and were destroying crops. The rangers had tried to drive both elephants away from the area the night before, after finding and dismantling another spear trap near the village.
“That night, we tried to drive Genk far away from the area because [we were] worried after we saw that there were spear traps mounted in the trees,” said Muctar Purba, the commanding CRU ranger, referring to the elephant by the name used by local residents and rangers.
“We confiscated [the spear traps]. We did not suspect there were other spears. It’s possible they [the spear traps] were attached after Magrib [a Muslim prayer performed just after sunset] by the people who intended to kill Genk.”
The 22-year-old Genk was well known in the area, and residents of Rantau Sabon and other nearby villages often had problems with the elephant. Genk had been in the Rantau Sabon area together with an elephant calf whose mother had earlier been poisoned in another nearby village. The CRU rangers believe Genk may have been the calf’s father, as the calf was often seen with Genk after its mother’s death.
Rangers used fireworks and bonfires to try to drive the elephants away from the area on Friday evening, finally returning to their camp at 2:00 a.m. after they no longer heard the elephants’ movements. The next morning, the rangers heard reports that an elephant had been killed with a spear and set off combing the area until they found Genk’s body.
“I cried when I saw Genk’s condition. Very sadistic,” Muctar told Mongabay-Indonesia. “Genk must have been killed immediately when he was hit in the head with the spear, because we did not hear the sound of a scream that night. It looks like the perpetrator took the tusks that night as well.”
Aceh has been the site of a number of recent conflicts between humans and Sumatran elephants. In 2012, 14 elephants were killed in the province, and last month a baby elephant died while being cared for by residents of Blang Pante village, who had refused to hand the animal over to local authorities unless they received compensation for property destroyed in conflicts with adult elephants.
Killing or capturing endangered animals is illegal in Indonesia, however perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. Organizers of the #RIPPapaGenk social media campaign hope that by publicizing this case they can put pressure on the government to investigate.
“There will be public pressure,” said Novita Wulandari from the Orangutan Embassy, a group dedicated to the conservation of endangered animals in Indonesia. “We hope the case of the killing of this animal will get the attention of the government so that it will have a deterrent effect in the field. Because so far there have not been any cases that have been handled in a serious manner.”
In addition to Yudhoyono’s Twitter response, Indonesia’s Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan has also commented on the case. The minister said earlier via his Twitter account that an investigation is currently underway and Aceh Police are already in pursuit of a suspect.
This article was written by Diana Parker, Mongabay-Indonesia contributor