Hundreds of hotspots burn Tesso Nilo National Park, threatening elephants

By Aji Wihardandi, Translated from Bahasa by Laily Affini
August 08, 2012

Fires in Tesso Nilo National Park denoted by orange dots.
Fires in Tesso Nilo National Park denoted by orange dots.

From June to July, hundreds of fires spread in Tesso Nilo National Park in Indonesia. Based on the data from World Wide Fund for Wildlife (WWF) Program-Riau, fire hotspots reached their peak in the third week of June. As of early July, fires, which were triggered a month earlier, could not be totally extinguished.

WWF spokesperson, Riau Syamsidar, said that based on GIS satellite from June 1-17th, 78 hotspots were detected in Tesso Nilo National Park. On June 18, 2012 there were 10 fires burning in one of Riau's biggest elephant habitats.

"From the number of discovered hotspots, it is predicted that the forest fire in Tesso Nilo National Park burned more than 10 hectares," Syamsidar reported.

According to Syamsidar, Tesso Nilo National Park is prone to fire. This is because many lands have been illegally overtaken by encroachers. Moreover, hot and dry weather benefited encroachers, allowing them to burn forest which is converted to oil palm plantations.

"We worry the fire will disturb rare species like Sumatran elephants in Tesso Nilo National Park," Syamsidar noted. Sumatran elephants have recently been unlisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Tesso Nilo National Park covers 83,000 hectares, but around 35,000 hectares has been encroached by residents and corporate developers, much of it converted into oil palm plantations or settlements. Elephant habitat is in an alarming state according to authorities. Fire in elephant habitat may trigger conflicts between the huge animals and humans; a conflict that usually ends in the death of the Sumatran elephants.

Tesso Nilo National Park, which was formerly a forest concession area for Hak Pengasuhan Hutan (HPH) located in Pelalawan and Indragiri Hulu, was officially opened on July 19, 2004 when it initially covered 38,576 hectares before being expanded.

The park is home to 360 types of plants which belong to 165 genera and 57 families, 107 bird species, 23 mammals, three primates, 50 fish species, 15 reptiles and 18 amphibians. Tesso Nilo is one of Sumatra's last remaining lowland forests and contains 120-150 elephants as well as Sumatran tigers.

A road owned by PT. Riau Andalas Pulp and Paper splits the National Park, but reportedly, the provincial government plans to sever the road in order to reduce illegal logging.

Sumatran elephant. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Sumatran elephant. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

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By Aji Wihardandi, Translated from Bahasa by Laily Affini (August 08, 2012).

Hundreds of hotspots burn Tesso Nilo National Park, threatening elephants.