The latest Red List of threatened species has upgraded the risk of Indonesia’s Sumatran elephants from “endangered” to “critically endangered.” The elephants have lost half their population in the past 25 years.
The mounting Red List from the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimated this week there are only 2,400 to 2,800 elephants living in the wild on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Conservationists say the species could be extinct in less than 30 years if immediate action is not taken.
The IUCN also changed the elephant’s status because it lost nearly 70 percent of its habitat in one generation. The World Wildlife Fund said that statistic is the “most rapid deforestation” of any of the Asian elephant subspecies.
While Indonesian law calls for the protection of the Sumatran elephants, it does little to safeguard the land where they live. Two-thirds of their forests, especially in the Riau province, have been turned into oil palm plantations or industrialized by the pulp and paper industry.
The elephants live mainly in the wet, lowland areas, which appear to also be the best suitable areas for oil palm crops. The elephants have competed for their habitat with the oil palm industry, for the past two decades.
The World Wildlife Fund is calling on the Indonesian government to prohibit all forest development in the elephant habitats until there is a conservation strategy to save the species.
“We recommend that large habitat patches be assessed and designated protected areas. Smaller habitat areas should be linked by conservation corridors and areas of possible habitat expansion or restoration explored. An immediate moratorium on habitat conversion is needed to secure a future for Sumatran elephants,” WWF said in a statement.
The Sumatran elephant joins a growing list of Indonesian species that are critically endangered. These include the Sumatran orangutan, the Javan, the Sumatran rhino and the Sumatran tiger.
Photo from pastorbuhro via flickr.