Nunukan. Villagers in North Kalimantan’s Nunukan district say a group of elephants has been encroaching on their land and destroying their crops for the past five days, a claim that conservationists say indicates that the endangered animals are being driven out of their habitat.
Putra Sinar Jaya, the head of Sekaduyan Taka village in Simenggaris subdistrict, said on Tuesday that the group of three elephants had destroyed “dozens of hectares” of crops, including oil palms, banana trees ad cassava plants, since last week.
“For the past five days they’ve been coming here and destroying everyone’s plants,” he said, adding that they usually arrived at twilight and left before dawn.
“We fear that soon they’ll start destroying people’s homes. And we can’t defend ourselves otherwise we’ll be accused of killing wildlife.”
He said villagers had reported seeing the animals arriving from the direction of Serudong in Malaysia’s Sabah state.
Wiwin Effendy, WWF Indonesia’s East Kalimantan coordinator, said that if the reports of the elephant invasions were confirmed, then it would be the first time that the animals were known to have encroached onto human settlements in Simenggaris subdistrict.
“As far as we know, they usually stick close to the four rivers in the border region between Nunukan and Malaysia, which is in Tulin Onsoi subdistrict,” he said.
Wiwin added that the reports that they were now straying further indicated that they had been driven out because of the destruction of their primary habitat.
He said the elephants’ known habitat there was rapidly being lost to the expansion of oil palm plantations and logging concessions, since permits for commercial activities in the area began to be issued seven years ago.
Studies conducted by WWF Indonesia and the East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) over the past five years suggest there are only 20 to 80 Borneo elephants left in the area and that extinction is likely without efforts by the government and other stakeholders to preserve their habitat.
Borneo elephants are classified as an endangered species. Fourteen are confirmed to have died so far this year from suspected poisoning by villagers.