Sumatran Elephants: Their Struggle Against Poaching and Palm Oil

Sumatran Elephants: Their Struggle Against Poaching and Palm Oil

Sumatran Elephants are a critically endangered species who live in Sumatra, an island in Indonesia. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that there 2,400 to 2,800 of them left before they possibly go extinct. These elephants weigh about five tons, and are twenty feet in length. At the shoulder, they’re five to nine feet tall. Their scientific name is Elephas maximus sumatranus, and they prefer to live in “broadleaf moist tropical forests” that are being cut down.

“Sumatran elephants feed on a variety of plants and deposit seeds wherever they go, contributing to a healthy forest ecosystem. They also share their lush forest habitat with several other endangered species, such as the Sumatran rhino, tiger, and orangutan, and countless other species that all benefit from an elephant population that thrives in a healthy habitat” (WWF). They are not only important to the environment, but to all the other inhabitants who face a similar fate if nothing is done to help them.

This picture was taken from here.

Nearly 70% of their habitat has been destroyed in one generation. This is largely due to the profitable palm oil that is widely used in meals and other products sold at supermarkets. “Sumatra has experienced one of the highest rates of deforestation within the Asian elephant’s range, which has resulted in local extinctions of elephants in many areas” (WWF). Because many brands do not use certified, sustainable oil, this problem will only get worse.

It is a popular ingredient as they are used to make instant noodles dry and crispy, for example, and it is apparently eaten the most by Americans according to WWF’s recent short article. “In fact, many instant noodle products are 20% palm oil by weight” (WWF). An added bonus for business is how it is “versatile and has long shelf life” as noted by National Geographic.

National Geographic goes deeper into this story, with their article about deforestation published on March 8th, 2017. In short, forests are being cleared to make way for plantations to be built and other illegal operations. But there is some hope as some companies are pledging to have a “zero deforestation policy” in order to preserve the environment.

“Wilmar—the world’s largest palm oil company, controlling more than 45 percent of the global trade—committed in December 2013 to a policy of zero deforestation across all the palm oil it produces, sources, and trades. The policy applies to “all Wilmar operations worldwide, including those of its subsidiaries, any refinery, mill or plantation that we own, manage, or invest in.” Wilmar supplies oil to companies like PepsiCo, Nestlé, Procter and Gamble, and Unilever, which also have no-deforestation commitments” (National Geographic).

While most of these corporations may just be doing this for PR, this is still good news. However, others continue to destroy what little remains of their former habitat. “About 20 percent of palm oil refining capacity in the region isn’t subject to a no-deforestation commitment” (National Geographic).

This picture was taken from here.

A side effect of deforestation is how elephants and other animals are forced to go into human-populated areas, causing conflict that is becoming more common in Sumatra. This is a picture from National Geographic showing how they have wrecked someone’s home, as they are being pushed into smaller forests.

There is also the separate, but still important to mention, issue of poaching. Ivory can sell for a lot in the illegal marketplace. “Sumatran elephants typically have smaller tusks but they are enough to tempt poachers who kill the animals and sell their tusks on the illegal ivory market. Only male Asian elephants have tusks so every poaching event further skews the sex ratio further constraining breeding rates for the species” (WWF).

That is all I’ve found on Sumatran elephants as of today. Thank you for reading, and please like and share this post so that others can learn about their situation and spread the word. Creating awareness always helps bring more attention and action to where they are needed. If you would like to read similar posts, check out my Update on Bengal Tigers, Update on Giant Pandas, and Bumblebees In Danger. Have a nice day!

*The featured image was taken from here.


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