Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 59 – The Sumatran Elephant


Sumatran elephants in the jungle

Image: Green Global Travel

Description
Why is somewhere so richly bio-diverse as Indonesia losing its wildlife at such an alarming rate?  Why are the Sumatran tiger, the Javan and Sumatran rhino, and the Sumatran orangutan, all endangered?  And, why was the Sumatran elephant moved from endangered to critically endangered, on the IUCN Red List, in 2012?  Collectively, difficult questions to find the answers to, perhaps!

Well, no… not really.  There is no mystery attached at all.  It is not poaching, disease or the illegal pet trade, but  palm oil  which they have fallen victim to, and which has now become the principal threat to the survival of the Sumatran elephant.  For goodness sakes people, stop buying palm oil-based products now.  Palm oil is ‘liquid ivory'”  [1]  to the unscrupulous.  Do not feed the greed. This elephant is rapidly losing its habitat, and dying off at a terrifying rate because of it.

For a full, up to date report on the destruction caused by palm oil plantations,  click here.   Trust me – it will both shock and disgust you.

The Sumatran elephant is a recognised subspecies of the Asian elephant, and native to the Indonesia island of Sumatra.  These magnificent creatures can grow to between seven and ten feet at the shoulder.  They weigh in at an incredible six and a half to eleven thousand pounds, and surprisingly can run up to twenty-seven miles per hour.  They have leathery grey skin and smaller ears than African elephants. They also have an extra pair of ribs.  Females tend to be smaller than males and often do not have tusks.  Those that do, have them tucked safely away under the upper lip. That surely has to be a plus for the Sumatran elephant.

Elephants wallow a lot.  This endearing habit is very important.  It protects their skin from harmful insect bites and cools them down at the same time.  They also migrate, following strict routes.  The herd is led by the eldest elephant who is expected to remember its herd’s route from the previous trek.  Migration takes place between the wet and dry seasons, when they can walk up to seven kilometres in a single night.  Should they need to cross rivers, elephants are able to submerge themselves underwater and use their trunks as snorkels.  On their travels, they communicate with each other using sounds produced by soft vibrations of the trunk.  These sounds can be heard by other elephants up to five kilometres away.

There is no particular breeding season for elephants, but the rainy season seems quite popular.  Females are ready to breed by the time they are ten years old.  There is a gestation period of twenty-two months, after which a single calf will be born.  Calves weigh about one hundred kilos and are normally taken care of by other females in the herd, as well as the mother.  Infants stay with their mothers until they are five years old.

Who is responsible for the decline of the Sumatran elephant?
(An excerpt from the Rainforest Action Network factsheet on palm oil plantations)

“North American food and agribusiness companies purchase from, operate, and own many palm oil plantations in South-east Asia, making our corporations a powerful force in the palm oil market.
The largest privately owned company in the U.S., Cargill dominates the American palm oil market. They own five palm oil plantations in Indonesia and PNG and are the largest importer of palm oil into the U.S., sourcing from at least 26 producers and buying roughly 11 percent of Indonesia’s total oil palm output. A large and growing number of investigations have shown that Cargill’s palm oil is directly destroying forests, eliminating biodiversity and harming forest peoples.”

Companies such as Nestlé and Unilever are also heavily involved.

Read more:  Problem with Palm Oil Factsheet | Rainforest Action Network

Habitat
Lowland forests.
Where
Sumatra – Indonesia.
What they eat
Green vegetation and fruit.  The Sumatran elephant  and can munch its way through two hundred kilos of food a day.
Threats
Mainly oil palm plantations, followed closely by timber plantations for pulp and paper production, and land clearance for agricultural use. Elephants have also been shot and poisoned by local farmers.  Natural predators are few.
Status: Critically Endangered
The Sumatran elephant  (Elephas maximus sumatranus)  is listed on the  IUCN List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  There are an estimated two thousand of the species left in the wild.  The World Wide Fund For Nature predicts that within 30 years this South-east Asian elephant could be extinct.  The Sumatran elephant is protected under Indonesian law, though this has not been enforced efficiently in the past.  This year,  WWF  have been working with partners in Sumatra to  “prevent destruction of forest habitat and secure well-managed protected areas and wider forest landscapes connected by corridors”.  The government of Indonesia has now passed a new law setting maximum boundaries land use.  This has upset the plantation owners and their investors.  “For example, the production target of 40 million tons of palm oil by 2020 is in jeopardy”.  [1]

For a full, up to date report on the destruction caused by palm oil plantations,  click here. (just in case you missed it at the beginning)

“We are living on the planet as if we have another one to go to”
Terry Swearingen

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17 thoughts on “Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 59 – The Sumatran Elephant

  1. Pingback: Elephant and the Acacia – Palmoil and a Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 59 – The Sumatran Elephant | Forest of Peace

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