The Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) is one of three recognized subspecies of the Asian elephant, and native to the Indonesia island of Sumatra. The Sumatran elephant has been placed on the list of critically endangered species after losing half of its population in a single generation, prompting calls from conservation groups for emergency measures to halt the destruction of its habitat.
The Sumatran elephant was once widespread on the island, and Riau Province was believed to have the largest elephant population in Sumatra with over 1,600 individuals in the 1980s. By 2008, elephants had become locally extinct in 23 of the 43 ranges identified in Sumatra in 1985, indicating a very significant decline of the Sumatran elephant population up to that time. By 2008, the elephant was locally extinct in West Sumatra Province and at risk of being lost from North Sumatra Province too.
In Sumatra’s Riau province, pulp and paper industries and oil palm plantations have caused some of the world’s most rapid rates of deforestation. Elephant numbers have declined by a staggering 80 percent in less than 25 years, confining some herds to small forest patches. These populations are not likely to survive in the long-term.
Due to conversion of forests into human settlements and agricultural areas, many of the Sumatran elephant populations have lost their habitat to humans. As a result, many elephants have been removed from the wild or directly killed. In addition to conflict related death, elephants are also targets of poaching for their ivory. Between 1985 and 2007, 50% of Sumatran elephants died. Between 2012 and 2015, 36 elephants were found dead in Aceh Province due to poisoning, electrocution and traps. Most dead elephants were found near palm oil plantations. Conservationists think that Sumatran elephants may become extinct in less than ten years if poaching is not stopped.
In 2004, the Tesso Nilo National Park has been established in Riau Province to protect the Sumatran elephant's habitat. This forest is one of the last areas large enough to support a viable population of elephants.