Mahouts of the elephant Flying Squad at the Tesso Nilo National Park had to evacuate the trained elephants to a safer place, as they showed signs of stress due to a forest fire that gutted the conservation area in Pelalawan District.
“The elephants have shown a change in behavior, because the fire has made them uncomfortable,” chief of the Flying Squad Team, Erwin Daulay, told Antara here on Tuesday.
The Tesso Nilo National Park is a conservation forest, a home for the Sumatran endemic elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus).
The TNTN area was extended in 2009 to 83,068 hectares, from only 38,576 hectares in 2004, by including the limited production forest.
However, massive illegal encroachment of the conservation area has changed its landscape into palm oil plantations.
Daulay said the forest fire in the conservation area since August 1 had released a thick smog and it began to approach the Flying Squad camp in Lubuk Kembang Bunga Village. The fire was started at the Sungai Tapah area.
The Flying Squad, a team of captive elephants and handlers (mahouts) that help local farmers reduce elephant conflicts, comprised five mature elephants and three calves.
“The fire is getting wilder and has been approaching the camp since Friday, August 9. Finally, we evacuated the elephants to some 500 meters from the camp into the forest because the wind has blown the smog to the camp,” he added.
Deputy chief of Pelalawan police Commissioner, Rezi Darmawan, said the forest fire in the village is under control, thanks to the joint efforts of the police, military, the fire brigades, WWF Riau and some companies.
However, the authority still detected hotspots in Kusuma Village, he said.
Head of the Tesso Nilo National Park, Halasan Tulus, said the fire in the conservation forest occurred sporadically, especially in the extended areas, which have reported human activities.
The extreme dry season, he said, has made the conservation area prone to fires. However, there is little chance for natural causes to ignite the fire as the area gutted is mostly occupied by people.
“It can be caused by cigarettes or the clearing of land,” he said.