Work Begins

This month we started on the pre requirements for the proposed electric fence we plan on building during march.

The first step in providing a safe and healthy environment for the conservation center elephants in Seblat, North Bengkulu, Sumatra is to make sure there is a good food supply. The first step is to repair the fencing for the 2 hectare lot that was once a flourishing plantation of king grass of which the mahouts would readily cut klumps for overnight food for the elephants. Sadly the fence is in disrepair, which allows the wild pigs to get in and feed on crops and nothing much remains.

This will soon become the main food source to provide the elephants when they settle inside their home each night. Once all the holes are discovered and patched new crops will go in and soon flourish. Time to get to work…

Read more

New MoU in Place

To support our elephant conservation efforts head to the official Berdiri website http://www.berdiri.org

This month is a landmark for us here at Berdiri. We have signed a new 3 year MoU with the local conservation agency (BKSDA) here in Bengkulu to continue on the much needed conservation efforts for the critically endangered Sumatran elephants. The next three years will entail a few projects. First and our focus for now is to implement an electric fence for the camp elephants of PLG Seblat so they can be chain free, free to roam and socialize and to encourage the opportunity to breed.

This is the beginning of a long term plan and there will be many small, medium and large projects to aid in the conservation of the critically endangered elephants here is Sumatra.

A big thank you to those that have stuck by awaiting to make this happen. Especially the amazing conservation team of Tulsa Zoo.

Read more

Radio Collar Tracking

The FZS (Frankfurt Zoological Society) have been running some successful projects in the Jambi region of Sumatra. One of those being the tracking of wild elephants through the use of radio collars. By attaching a radio collar to one elephant in a herd the FZS team can effectively track the entre herd and can act quickly in the event the herd might get too close to a village. This helps prevent human/elephant conflict and further deaths of the critically endangered Sumatran elephant.

Full article on Elephants of Sumatra http://elephantsofsumatra.com/radio-collar-tracking/

Read more

EoS Book Excerpt (Elephants of Sumatra) – The Projects

Below is a sample extract from the up coming Elephants of Sumatra – The Final Stand documentary photography book being published in support of the critically endangered sumatran elephants and the various projects we have, projects we support directly in the field or indirectly by other means. The final product will be a 100 page photography documentary book created by Berdiri Founder Bruce Levick based on the back of 3 years in the field documenting  the dire situation being faced by the last remaining ELEPHANTS OF SUMATRA. The extract below is from a chapter named “The Projects”, which documents the work being carried out by various NGO’s to help conserve this amazing species. The book will be available for pre-order soon.

“Sumatra may be only one island of many thousands within the archipelago of Indonesia but the diversity of the wildlife within is second to none. With many unique species fighting for small pockets of remaining habitat on the island of Sumatra with most of these species listed as endangered or critically endangered, the elephants of Sumatra being one of those listed as critically endangered with an estimated figure of 1000-1500 left in the wild.
The main threats to the Elephants of Sumatra is habitat destruction and poaching for the ivory trade. For the most part it is the habitat destruction that is causing so many problems for the remainder of the species. As the habitat reduces the elephants are constantly on the move looking for new areas that are suitable for their herd and this causes the elephants to enter into nearby villages causing issues for the local farmers and community that come into conflict with the elephants. Thus usually ending in capture or death for the elephants. A lot of cases see elephant herds poisoned as they enter into oil palm crops where farmers have left out fruit laced with poison…” 

Read more

Poachers Kill 300 Elephants

Just recently officials discovered over 300 elephants and countless wildlife killed by the way of cyanide. While the targets are elephants and poaching their tusks for sale there were plenty of other countless animals found dead as well. It is reported that waterholes have been laced with cyanide. It’s the worst single killing in 25 years. Read the report here.

Poaching african elephants

Read more

Sumatra the Final Stand for Endangered Animals

Sumatra: Where wildlife and humans are foes in a bitter and constant struggle for land

Sumatra elephants

Sumatran elephants at a captive elephant camp

Statistics never tell the whole story. The same is true for the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the continued assault on its ecology by humans. Home to over 50 million people, Sumatra is the world’s fourth most populous island, but then that does not start saying even half the story.

but most of all, the wanton massacre of its amazing wildlife

The ever-burgeoning population is really what lies at the heart of this tale. A story of forest degradation, soil erosion, a constant onslaught on the island`s ecology, but most of all, the wanton massacre of its amazing wildlife like the Sumatran Orangutan, the Sumatran Tiger, the rhinoceros, and last but certainly not the least, the Sumatran Elephant.

sumatran elephants

Sumatran elephants at a captive elephant camp

Sumatra is home to a variety of ethnic groups like the Batak, Minangkabau, Krui, and Pelalawan-Petalangan. For centuries, man and animal stayed more or less in consonance with each other, both living off the land, taking only as much as was needed to survive.

precious sumatran jungle

precious sumatran jungle

Till man turned greedy. The onset of industrialisation followed by the globalisation of recent years has taken its toll on Sumatra. Here, statistics is but one weapon that Green warriors wield to wage an important battle against the ‘bad guys’ in this part of South East Asia. Here’s one number: Forest cover in Sumatra was reduced by as much as 48 percent between 1985 and 2007. Why? Rapid growth in population accompanied by ills such as infrastructure projects, migration, and development of plantations.

Sumaran leaf monkey

Sumaran leaf monkey

The island is home to oil palm plantations. Coffee cultivation is another developing home-spun industry here. Both have led to massive encroachments on forest land. Overall, Indonesia is home to approximately three percent of the world’s forests, and the island of Sumatra makes up a major portion of this, along with their neighbouring island of Borneo. But deforestation is happening rapidly. Trees are being mercilessly chopped down to be turned into pulp and paper, legally and illegally. Just as an aside, two of the world’s best tissue paper brands source their wood from the forests of Sumatra.

But this story does not end at the reduction in the green top. As the onslaught continues, the animals and birds here are being driven deeper and deeper into the forests to escape poachers and repeated attempts by humans to encroach upon their territory. It`s a story that may have ended in doom for the wildlife but for the work of a few who have decided to put up a stand, a final one some even say, to campaign for the rights of the Sumatran flora and fauna.

The battle for Sumatra is still touch-and-go

We will have to once again take recourse to statistics to illustrate this portion of the story:

  • A recent survey shows that barely about 6000 Sumatran orangutan are left on the island from the 85,000 that were there at the start of the twentieth century. Of these, some are the Orangutan (Genus Pongo), which is the last surviving Asian great ape.
  • The Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) is a rare tiger subspecies, the smallest (size-wise) in this category, inhabiting Sumatra. Global environmental organisation, the International Union for Conservation of Nature was forced to classify it ‘critically endangered’ in 2008 after the population came down drastically. Now, only about 400 survive.
  • The Sumatran rhino seems to be going the tiger way. About 200 survive in the entire South East Asia, the bulk of them in Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • The Sumatran Elephant, too, is on the critically endangered list. Total left: approximately 1000-2000 elephants.
Training baby Bona at the Sumatran captive elephant camp

Training baby Bona at the Sumatran captive elephant camp

Sumatran leaf Monkey

Sumatran leaf Monkey

 Has all of this stopped human beings from their evil machinations? It would not be an overtly optimistic statement if one were to say that the sustained awareness campaigns combined with the government`s efforts to save Sumatra`s wildlife have had some impact, though there are still rogue elements like illegal loggers, squatters and wildlife smugglers out there who continue with their nefarious activities. A quick look at some of the Indonesian newspapers show occasional reportage of such events. Like the one which reported the death of three critically-endangered Sumatran elephants in an oil palm plantation in western Indonesia in mid-2012. All three, said the report, were suspected to have been poisoned.

Or this: Late last year, Indonesian authorities arrested a bird smuggler from a bus in Sumatra, after he was found transporting 20 rare birds including the palm cockatoo.

Sumatran bird species

One of the many amazing Sumatran bird species

Of all the four types of wildlife named above, primates are one of the most heavily traded types of wildlife in Sumatra. While there is a legal trade allowed by the government of some of the primates, most is illicit. Primates are traded for consumption, for use in bio-medical research, to be sold to zoos, for extraction of material to be used in the making of traditional medicines; even the entertainment industry.

A few good men, women….and organisations

The fight against illegal poaching and encroachment has been a long, hard, bitterly-fought one. The end is nowhere in sight but let`s just say that an uneasy pause prevails currently in this war.

The Indonesian Government has tried to use its might to clamp down against the smugglers and those illegal squatters who encroach to reside or to do business on land rightfully belonging to the wildlife. The Sumatran tiger, for instance, finds refuge in Indonesia’s Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, a World Heritage Site spread over 356,000 hectare of land on the southern tip of Sumatra Island. But the government faces a daunting task – at least 20 percent of the park has already fallen to encroachers who have converted it to either coffee plantations or farms growing cash crops like pepper. The 2004 Tsunami in the Indian Ocean has worsened the problem because a large chunk of displaced people from the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra settled down within the park land.

Aiding the government, either in partnership or through their own individual efforts are other Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and individual wildlife experts. In the forefront is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). In Borneo and Sumatra, the WWF works with local communities to wage a battle against those intent on destroying the last strongholds of tigers, orangutans, and other species.

Then, in far off Australia, the Taronga and the Taronga Western Plains Zoos, too, are working collectively on a programme to protect the Sumatran Tiger in a number of ways.

In 2010, the Chinese Year of the Tiger, a partnership between the zoos around the world and the fundraising organisation, ‘21st Century Tiger’ was struck to raise awareness about the plight of tiger species. The partnership also generated funds for tiger conservation, and both the Australian zoos are part of this effort.

The Sumatran Tigers on display at Taronga Zoo help raise funds and generate awareness about this species. The population of Sumatran Tigers held in the Australasian region is also vital against further declines in the wild.

For the cause of Sumatra’s elephants, there’s Elephant Family, one of United Kingdom’s largest fund raisers for the endangered elephants of Asia.

This organisation has a three-fold objective:

  • Saving habitat, giving elephants the space they need, and reconnecting the great forests of Asia, so elephants can find new sources of food
  • Preventing conflict between humans and elephants, by working closely with local communities
  • Looking out for the welfare of those Asian elephants in captivity

For example, the Elephant Family works with The Veterinary Society for Sumatran Wildlife Conservation (VESSWIC). Established in 2003, the Society, among other services, provides veterinary services to Sumatra’s captive elephant population.

Trying to save the Sumatran Rhino from smugglers is also the International Rhino Foundation, an international body formed over 25 years ago, to protect rhinos from around the world.

The IRF works to protect threatened rhino populations and their habitats in the wild. It also supports the management of and research on captive populations to improve the chances for long-term survival. IRF operates in situ programs in Asia and Africa targeted to the rhino species most in need of and most appropriate for intensive protection and management.

Then there are individual efforts. Anthropologist Michael Reid with the Department of Anthropology, University of Canada is currently doing research on the last remaining Asian ape, the orangutan. Michael’s research focuses on the natural transmission of diseases between humans and orangutans and orangutans and other primates.

There are many such individuals and organisations like Greenpeace, Families for the Rain Forests, to name a few, out there, in the forefront of this battle to save Sumatra’s fragile and wounded ecology. Lack of editorial space stops us from naming all of them and their herculean efforts here but that in no way takes away from the nobility or for that matter, the enormity of their tasks.

The battle for Sumatra is still touch-and-go. In a way, it is no different from the hundreds of similar wars being fought by Green warriors in different parts of the world, but in a way it is unusual, too. For at the heart of this particular war is the very survival of species which are so reduced in numbers that they cannot sustain any more depreciation, or else, we and the generations to come will only have their memories and some images to remember them by.

Read more

Critically Endangered Sumatran Elephants


It is indeed an indictment of us and our humanity when the number of animals featuring on the endangered list mounts faster than mercury on a hot summer afternoon. By 2030 we will be an elite race making preparations that will allow us to conquer neighboring planets and stars! The scenario at home however will remain bleak if we do not let go of avarice. We were handed this planet to share with our animal friends and we have emerged as selfish trespassers. The concept of tolerance that the world governments have enshrined somehow seems circumscribed by the definition of human. The fact that after the Sumatran tiger in 2008, it is now the turn of the Sumatran elephant to be labeled “critically endangered” bears testament to the inadequacy of our endeavors and our gross selfishness!


The Elephas maximus sumatranus or the Sumatran elephant is a majestic creature. It can stand up to 9 feet tall at the shoulders and inhabits the broadleaf moist tropical forests of Sumatra. And it is an important part of the equation that keeps the forest environment healthy and thriving. The Sumatran elephant consumes copious amounts of vegetation in a day and it deposits a variety of seeds wherever it goes thus playing gardener to god’s forests. It has been seen through empirical data that the presence of an elephant community in the vicinity ensures the welfare of the other animals and in this case each of these animals shares space with the Sumatran elephant on the endangered list.

But all this cannot begin to make us comprehend the dire straits this beautiful creature is in. For that we need to understand its temperament. Elephants are social creatures. They have a high degree of intelligence and a good memory. They are also very affectionate and frequently the young ones are seen frolicking with each other or trotting obediently behind their mothers holding on to their tails for support and guidance. Very much like a human mother, a female elephant can lay down her life for the safety of her offspring. This unfortunately is a common occurrence. The illegal animals trade is a vicious and close knit business and these baby elephants fetch a handsome price for some high roller to have the distinction of showcasing an endangered Sumatran Elephant in his private zoo. Close on the heels of this dilemma comes poaching. Despite stringent security measures which the Sumatran Government tries to implement, poaching is an ever present danger. Though the Sumatran elephant has smaller tusks than its African counterparts, the prohibitive cost of ivory makes them lucrative to the poachers who wish to make a double killing with a prize baby elephant and the tusks of a bull. In one cruel perfectly plotted move, a herd is left bereft of babies and males. This not only affects the present population but future chances of recovery are hampered by the missing males. To mate naturally both the sexes are needed. Conservationists can envision another “Matschie’s tree-kangaroo” stunt wherein this rare species has been bred in captivity since the 1070s because of lack of conducive and livable habitat in the wild. Even this possible scheme has a hitch-Elephants don’t breed well in captivity. They are choosy about who they mate with and their gestation period is very long, between 18 to 22 months. Furthermore there is only one calf per pregnancy. These obstacles spell it very clearly: “Saving the Sumatran elephant in the wild is the only feasible way of ensuring it doesn’t become extinct!”


And that brings us to the next demon- Urbanization. Poaching is detrimental to the growth of the Sumatran elephant population but in this case it is not the biggest evil. Human greed trumps it. Since the natural habitat of these elephants can play such a crucial role in its survival, there should be every effort possible to conserve it. Sumatra has experienced an epic almost exponential increase in the rate of deforestation over the last few decades. Almost two-thirds of the available natural lowland which is the preferred habitat of the Sumatran elephant has been razed to accommodate growing human needs of space or timber. These gentle giants who live in matriarchal herds have lost 70% of their population in one generation!! The wild population has fallen to a scant 2800.Further exacerbating their misery is the tyranny of the Palm oil plantations. Because of the high demand of grade quality palm oil, more than 75% of the elephant’s habitat has disappeared in the Riau province alone. These plantations leave land acarpous and inhospitable for elephant herds!

The remaining pachyderms have an uphill battle facing them. Because of human-elephant conflict accidental deaths contribute to the declining population. When elephants come in close contact with humans, material destruction is inevitable. This is part of the way elephants function, trampling large areas to get to what they want. It is programmed in them genetically and humans in their ignorance or because of the survival instinct view them as threats. The Sumatran elephant plagued by the destruction of its habitat and hunger rushes to human colonies where it is stoned or shot. For doing what any living being will do when pushed to the absolute limit! Sometimes while crossing the railway tracks which are unfamiliar objects crisscrossing their lands, they are involved in accidents that leave them dead or mutilated. Many foreign factors oppressing them and the stress of trying to survive have somehow degraded the fertility of the Sumatran elephants. The Lampung province had only two biologically viable herds as of 2002. And this might be a death knell for the dreams of a recovery in the wild.

It is a very precarious situation, to say the least. We need to act fast and extend a helping hand if our children are to see the beauty and wonder of the Sumatran elephants. The critically endangered status is just one below the “Extinct in the wild” in the structure of threat assessment that the IUCN Red List uses to categorize fauna. In 2011, the Sumatran elephant joined the list. The only silver lining is the fact that the inclusion is relatively recent and in view of the long life span of elephants, it is possible that the efforts of many dedicated groups have already started making a difference which will become notable in the coming years. The biggest push has been provided by the WWF. It has seriously called for the oblivious Indonesian government to designate large patches of land for the explicit purpose of the protected existence of Sumatran elephants. And if the push is significant, the government will buckle.

The Veterinary Society for Sumatran Wildlife Conservation (Vesswic) is a registered non-profit organization founded in 2003 by a group of Sumatran veterinarians who are trying to implement cost effective betterment solutions in Sumatra for the elephants. This program in turn is whole heartedly supported by Asian Elephant Support. The IEF (International Elephant Foundation) though not Sumatran has funded and organized a number of trips to the Sumatran Elephant Conservation Centers (ECC) to deliver medical supplies and provide training to the staff so that lack of funding and know how don’t result in further losses of elephant life. The Frankfurt Zoological Society has also opened up a number of Elephant Conflict Mitigation Units (ECMUs) which work to help elephants and humans co-exist in harmony. If this is achieved, it will be like treating the root cause instead of symptoms and can usher in a golden era of human-animal habitation. Science which can be seen as a culprit in this fiasco is also willing to make amends. The Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia have agreed to collaborate on molecular genetics-based research projects which can reveal useful data pertaining to distribution and demographics of the Sumatran elephant aiding conservation attempts. All in all awareness has spread at an unprecedented rate. With the omnipresent internet proclaiming the message of conservation and its need, more and more people are expected to pitch in and support the cause of the Sumatran elephants.



“Elephants love reunions. They recognize one another after years and years of separation and greet each other with wild, boisterous joy. There’s bellowing and trumpeting, ear flapping and rubbing. Trunks entwine.”
― Jennifer Richard Jacobson, Small as an Elephant

All elephants have remarkable human qualities as the quote says. They are scared and lonely, in need of some humanity. We profess to possess the most of it. Hence if we can help the Sumatran elephants battle it out, it will be a victory for everything that is divine in us. These marvelous creatures deserve better than just a line in a history book. They deserve to tread the paths we do and welcome the future with us!

Read more

Zero Sum Game? – The Ivory Trade in Africa

Are Wildlife Conservation and Economic Development a Zero Sum Game: A Report on the Ivory Trade in Africa


After over a decade of progress toward the goal of restoring the elephant from the brink of extinction, the poaching of elephants has once again become a problem threatening the extinction of the largest of the world’s land mammals. The causes of this shift are understandably economic.  The elephants’ ivory is still highly valued around the world and consumers are willing to spend a premium to purchase it.  As most of the world’s suppliers are in fact impoverished nations the motivation to meet this demand remains quite strong.  But the problem remains, are the goals of wildlife preservation and economic gain hopelessly opposed?  Is it possible to reconcile the goals of wildlife preservation and economic profit?

The causes of this shift are understandably economic

The market for African ivory is an ancient one. Rulers and potentates both within and outside Africa have used elephant tusks to craft all kinds of prestige and luxury items (such as jewelry, religious and secular art objects, piano keys, dice, and billiard balls) for thousands of years.  However it’s only in the last 200 years that the trade in ivory has threatened the survival of an entire species. Since 1800 the population of Africa’s elephants has declined from an estimated 26 million to only 1 million in 2012.
The process of hunting elephants is a brutal one.  The animals are captured using wire snares that can catch entire herds as well as other forms of wildlife.  They are then killed using automatic rifles and the tusks are removed using chainsaws or axes.  According to some reports as many as 8% of Africa’s entire elephant population is killed each year by poachers that adds up to about 36,000 elephants per year and as noted above elephant tusks are expensive.

According to one report a single large 1.5 m tusk was on sale in Kinshasa for $10,000.

Who, Where and Why?

As the environmental toll of this totally legal trade was recognized, NGOs in 1989 managed to secure international agreements declaring the hunting of elephants for their tusks illegal under the rules of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  In the wake of this decision markets dried up for ivory in most countries and despite vehement opposition, only a small number of African suppliers elected to continue the trade.
CITES, more fully known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, was implemented in 1973 with the goal to prevent the extinction of entire species by regulating international commerce in plant and animal goods. CITES is legally binding on all 80 member states who are obligated to write and enforce laws to achieve the goal of the convention with the financing for enforcement generally coming from the profits of the trade in wildlife products.
Since the CITES ban, the major national suppliers and consumers are known as the “gang of eight” countries, with Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, the major suppliers, China and Thailand, the major consumers and Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines important as middlemen in the international transportation of ivory. But African ivory suppliers are not limited to those three countries as there is Ivory production from all over southern and central Africa.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, local conservationists estimate the elephant population has suffered steep declines in recent years and is now below 20,000. At the capital, Kinshasa, reporters found illegal ivory for sale quite openly at local markets and the ivory from over 200 elephants per day was seen available for purchase.

African Elephant

African Elephant by Scott Michaels.

East Africa appears to be important both as a supplier and as a major transshipment center of African ivory bound for China.  According to law enforcement as much as 85% of the ivory seized from around the world is sourced from or passed by way of East Africa to international markets and African law enforcement authorities have arrested many Chinese couriers in East African ports.

The Economic Truth

So what accounts for the ongoing trafficking in ivory in spite of the world-wide ban and the heightened risk to anyone who engages in it? The reason is best revealed in the economic circumstances of the supplier countries.  In 2011 the collective GDP of the three countries that supply most of the African ivory to the world market was $75 billion for a total collective population of 122 million.  This works out to an average per capita GDP for each of these countries of $808 (Kenya), $532 (Tanzania) and $487 (Uganda).  As a point of comparison the average GDP per capita for three of the world’s top four economies is $48,112 (United States), $45,903 (Japan) and $44,060 (Germany).  The total population of Japan alone is 125 million. So the combined economies of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are quite small in comparison.
Africa as a continent relies heavily on raw materials and wildlife products for its exports, as it has for centuries and those goods it can sell on the world market have always been the lower value added commodities rather than higher value added manufactured goods.  The continent’s reliance on such items to earn foreign exchange is creating a conflict with the conservation community that does not appear to have an easy resolution.
These economic problems could have been mitigated had most African countries managed to chart a more successful course in economic development.  But since independence African countries continue to experience the paradoxical problem of “growth without development.” Economists, even those studying developed economies, are coming to acknowledge that growth and development are two separate outcomes and that it has become a habit to confuse the two when reporting economic figures such as gross domestic product and personal income per capita.  Annual increases in those measures appears to disguise the reality of stagnating incomes and economies and worsening social, political and economic conditions when measures like poverty, disease, illiteracy, malnutrition,  unemployment,  and infrastructure development are used instead.
In a recent assessment of one of the wealthiest nations in Africa, the Guardian reported that:

“The poverty index in Nigeria is 60 per cent (placing the country 156th out of 187 countries), current exchange rate of the naira to the dollar is N162…inflation stands at 12.7 per cent from 10.3 per cent level in 2011. The lending rate is 22 per cent, unemployment 37 per cent (over 40 million Nigerians jobless), domestic debt is N5.6 trillion, foreign debt $5.9 billion…”

The reasons why modern African economies grow but don’t develop and are reliant on highly volatile commodities after centuries of participation in the world economy are complex.  It’s important to consider the roles of economic mismanagement, colonialism, imperialism, and neo-colonialism in modern Africa’s ongoing lack of development. In the case of Nigeria some economists have pointed out that corruption, political instability and poor implementation of development goals are the main causes. This suggests the solution to Africa’s long-term problems is one of improving the quality and stability of political and economic management.

A Long Term Solution?

For the main question of the conflict between economic need and wildlife conservation, the solution appears to be in the sustainability model of development.  This model is meant to maintain resource stability without totally eradicating it.  Many observers have pointed out that an outright ban is not a useful solution and may accelerate the decline of plant and animal species.  For instance, after a ban on rhinoceros horn in the mid-1970s the African rhino population declined from 15000 to 3000.  While reports indicate 2011 had the highest number of seizures of African ivory by policing authorities in over 20 years. But even a sustainable model has its risks as the demand for ivory may lead to relaxing regulations so much that poaching once again threatens to push elephants into extinction.

Read more