09.10.2017 |
Liz W.
Protecting the mega gardeners of the forest


One of APP’s major concerns is the protection of biodiversity. In 2013 the company took a huge step forward in making their supply chain more sustainable. In addition to this change in policy, APP initiated the Belantara Foundation in 2015. This Indonesian non-profit organisation manages and supports wide-ranging landscape scale conservation projects across Sumatra and Kalimantan. Over the past two years this independent foundation has developed numerous forest conservation and biodiversity protection projects. In these programmes the wild elephant plays a crucial role. Why is the plight of this giant mammal so important to APP?

Habitat and landscape approach

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) less than 50,000 wild elephants roam the forests of Asia today. In the last hundred years, their habitat has shrunk by 95%. All remaining pockets of habitat combined equal the size of Spain. This is barely sufficient to sustain the surviving elephants. The population has declined by over 70%. If we do not act now, the Asian elephant will become extinct in 30 years.

Deforestation and encroachment of its habitat has led to extensive human-elephant conflict. Every day stressed and starving elephants raid food crops and plantations, causing death and destruction in villages. The relocation of wild elephants to conservation areas brings some relief to this situation. Next we need sustainable forest management to bring a halt to the decline of the elephant’s habitat. Yet elephants are mobile and do not restrain themselves to protected areas. If we want to succeed in efforts to protect the elephant, we therefore need to embrace a landscape approach in which all stakeholders work together. The landscape approach is a conceptual framework to build a common understanding of the issues at stake on a given landscape, through a holistic approach. In a second step, it brings together central and local government, companies producing different commodities, local communities, civil society and research centres, ensuring that all land uses are incorporated into a comprehensive sustainable landscape management process. So what? Here it should be made clear that because of the mobility of elephants such an approach is necessary in order to establish connectivity within the landscape through well-established plans.

A keystone species

It is key to raise awareness of the need to protect the Asian elephant. This entails research and education. The more we know about elephants, the better we are able to protect them. Ecologists stress that the Asian elephant is a keystone species from which many other benefit. Their migration and feeding habits help to disperse and germinate seeds. Elephants eat the fruits of plants and defecate their seeds over distances as large as 55 km. Scientific analysis of elephant dung demonstrates that ingested seeds are significantly more likely to germinate than non-ingested seeds.

As elephants offer a crucial contribution to help maintain plant diversity and sustain fragile ecosystems, a further decline of their number would be devastating and lead to simpler plant communities and a loss of forest biodiversity. To fulfil their ecological role, elephants need sufficient space to roam.

Another possibility is to reconnect elephants’ natural migratory routes by linking protected areas together. An example of this strategy is the Bukit Tigapuluh conservation project initiated by Belantara in Eastern Sumatra. Here local NGOs try to minimise human-elephant conflict by creating feeding pockets and elephant corridors that allow elephants to roam and disperse the seeds of digested fruits during their long hikes.

Mega gardeners of the forest

The Asian elephant truly is the mega gardener of the forest. They play a key role in the regeneration of the forest. If we want to protect the natural forest and maintain its biodiversity for future generations, we simply cannot afford to lose the Asian elephant. This is why elephants play a key role in APP’s project to restore and conservate 1 million hectares of forest in Indonesia and why we are 100% committed to the protection of this majestic frugivore.

This blog was written on the occasion of APP’s Sponsorship of the Elephant Parade in the Dutch municipality of Laren (June 18 - October 1, 2017). Elephant Parade has made it their mission to protect and save the Asian elephant. This social enterprise raises awareness of the need for elephant conservation by organizing unique art exhibitions and auctions of elephant statues decorated by upcoming and world-renowned artists. 20% of their net profits go to elephant welfare and conservation projects. More info: www.elephantparade.com

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