The Role of Conservation Response Unit (CRU) in Human Elephant Conflict Mitigation and Strengthening the Forest Status of Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) Seblat – Bengkulu
Habitat fragmentation is one of the most serious problems affecting elephant populations. Fragmentation is primarily caused by human activities that use natural resources without sustainable management. The areas of habitat typically under most threat are those closely linked with areas of intensive human activity – growing population centers and improving roadways.
The Conservation Response Unit (CRU) model is one method that provides a strong connection between in-situ and ex-situ elephant conservation. This model uses captive elephants and their mahouts for direct field-based conservation interventions to support wild elephants and habitat. The likelihood of humans and elephants coming into conflict increases as human activities encroach into forest areas. Bengkulu Provincial Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) has witnessed an increasing number of incidents of wildlife (elephant and tiger) – human conflict bordering the Seblat ECC conservation area. When elephants threaten lives, property and livelihoods, a response is required to ensure the safety of communities neighboring elephant habitat. If appropriate action is not taken by the responsible authority, local people are likely to respond themselves, perhaps by killing entire herds of elephants. Capturing elephants when they come into contact with communities is not a sustainable solution to this problem.
The Seblat Elephant Conservation Centre (ECC) is surrounded by several plantations – predominately palm oil plantations as well as an ex- logging concessions. The Seblat forest area acts as an important wildlife corridor and the critical link between the forest area of the ECC and the Kerinci Seblat National Park (KSNP). It is the most populated elephant habitat in Bengkulu therefore it must be protected and its status of “Protected Forest” improved to “Conservation Area”. This change of status needs to be issued by the Minister of Forestry. Currently the ECC “Protected Forest” can be easily downgraded to Production Forest or other functions by the local government.
BKSDA Bengkulu started the process to request the status conversion of the land and corridor close to the ECC in 2005. All project partners have submitted a recommendation with data to the Central Government Conservation Agency (PHKA) and it is hoped the minister of forestry will formally decree its Conservation Area status very soon.
In order to mitigate the human-wildlife conflict in the Seblat forest area in the long term, the CRU has also recommended the corridor secured and more forest blocks added which would connect the Seblat elephant habitat with the larger forest complex in KSNP. This new proposed elephant sanctuary size would be about 18,000 ha. It is also necessary to assess existing natural barriers and migration routes in order to be able to identify locations for artificial barriers or to anticipate the next cycle of the wild elephants’ visit. Attaching GPS collars to various elephants could provide a complete picture of the migration routes and habitat used by elephants. This knowledge would be very useful for future human-elephant conflict (HEC) strategies in these areas.