Maintaining Elephant Habitats Through Forum Sahabat GajahBy: Hijrah Nasir
Encountering a herd of elephants coming into the village is not a new situation for the community of Pemerihan. This village is directly adjacent to Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP) that they handle human-elephant conflicts quite often. According to the Pemerihan local community, the frequency of human - elephant conflict in the village could reach up to 70-100 times a year. The conflicts repeated in this village that it has caused economic losses to the local community. It is because most of the community's agricultural gardens were damaged by elephants. Therefore, the community took an initiative to evict elephants by the support from WWF.
The community built an elephant watch tower that it helped the community to let the elephants out of the field. The community felt that it is effective to have the tower to avoid the conflict.
Currently the Forum Sahabat Gajah in Pemerihan village has been able to organize the community to mitigate human-elephant conflict that they can prevent the conflict immediately when it happens. Forum Sahabat Gajah is formed by WWF, together with the Pemerihan community and the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in 2013. The purpose of the forum is to encourage Pemerihan community to participate in mitigating human - elephant conflicts that often occur in the village. This forum has 20 members. Since 2013 - 2017, WWF and the BBSNP have actively carried out capacity building training for the forum Sahabat Gajah team members, to increase the effectiveness of human - elephant conflict mitigation.
It is not only a habitat for key animals such as the Sumatran elephant, but Pemerihan village is also one of the locations of the NEWTrees (tree replanting) program. This program is supported by Toyota and WWF, to involve the local communities through the Forum Sahabat Gajah. The forum has been planting NEWTrees since 2014 with medang (Phoebe Hunanensis), bayur (Pterospermum javanicum), and salam (Syzygium polyanthum), pulai (Alstonia scholaris), sungkai (Peronema canescens), and mentru (Schima wallichii). These trees are planted on the 20 hectares area. Furthermore in 2015, Forum Sahabat Gajah also carried out maintenance at the NEWTrees site covering an area of 20 Ha. Nowadays, there are 40 Ha of NEWTrees, which have been planted by the forum.
This restoration program has been carried out since 2014, and it has succeeded to make the forest back again, as well as the herds of elephants from the village visits there. Now the elephants and the forest has become a part of the Pemerihan community. By taking care of the trees, it invests a new life for now and for the future generations. It ensures to protect elephant habitat where people can live in harmony with elephants.