Nature Blog Network Future Earth: Engaging elephants

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Engaging elephants

Not surprisingly, Asian elephants like lowland forests. Sadly for them, so do people – easier to chop and crop. People also plant tasty treats in their cleared land, banana trees with succulent pith and a tempting smorgousboard of sweet-smelling forest fruit trees.

Caught between the farms and the steep slopes of the central Sumatran high forests, elephants become a problem to people and some years ago a few hundred such crop raiders were caught and sent to training camps.
You’d think they’d hold it against us – but some of these amazing creatures are now helping conserve their own remaining forests.

The “conservation response units” take captive elephants to new areas of conflict between pachyderm and people. Crop raiding elephants are herded back into the forest by man’s new best friend – sometimes
heading off as soon as the captive elephants are in the vicinity. Do they rumble a warning?

Whatever they are saying, they get their reward - a centre in Tangkahan on the edge of the Gunung Leuser Reserve in North Sumatra is testing a new tourism model too - patrolling and securing income for forest protection at the same time. Bathing in the river with happy humans scrubbing your itchy skin - look at their faces. Who's having the last laugh now?

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