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Ecology and conservation of Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus) in Sumatra, Indonesia

Arnold Feliciano Sitompul, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) continue to decline due to habitat loss, poaching and conflict with humans. Yet, developing effective land conservation strategies for elephants is difficult because there is little information available on their foraging ecology, habitat use, movements and home range behaviors. Using the lead animal technique, 14 free-ranging, tame elephants at the Seblat Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) were observed for 4,496 hours to describe their foraging ecology and diet. The majority of their daily activity was feeding (82.2 ± 5.0%), followed by moving (9.5 ± 4.0 %), resting (6.6 ± 2.1%) and drinking (1.7 ± 0.6%), and individual activity budgets varied among individuals for all activities. At least 273 plant species belonging to 69 plant families were eaten by elephants and five plant families of Moraceae, Arecaceae, Fabaceae, Poaceae, and Euphorbiaceae were most commonly consumed. Elephants browsed more frequently than grazed, especially in the wet season. Levels of crude protein, calcium, phosphorus and gross energy in plants eaten by elephants in Seblat appeared adequate for meeting the nutritional requirements. Home range size of an adult female elephant in the SECC during 2007–2008, was 97.4 km2 for the MCP and 95.0 km2 for the 95% fixed kernel. There were no relationships between average monthly elephant home range sizes or movement distances with rainfall. Distances to rivers and ex-logging roads had little effect on elephant movements, but vegetation productivity, as measured by the Enhanced Vegetation Index, did affect elephant movements. We used resource selection and compositional analysis habitat ranking approaches to describe adult female elephant habitat use in the SECC. The elephant used medium canopy and open canopy forests more than expected; however, during the day closed canopy forests were used more than at night. Locating and capturing wild elephants in tropical rainforest environments are difficult and high-risk tasks. However, using tame elephants improves the search efficiency of finding wild elephants in dense forests and reduces risks to staff and target elephants. Use of experienced veterinarians and standing sedation techniques also greatly reduce the risks of elephant injury while immobilizing elephants.

Subject Area

Wildlife Conservation|Conservation|Natural Resource Management

Recommended Citation

Sitompul, Arnold Feliciano, "Ecology and conservation of Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus) in Sumatra, Indonesia" (2011). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3445184.