Sumatran Elephant | WWF Indonesia

Sumatran Elephant

Elephas maximus sumatrensis

The Sumatran elephant is a subspecies of Asian elephant and is classified as endangered. The Sumatran elephant is under serious threat from illegal logging and associated habitat loss and fragmentation in Indonesia. The elephant population’s long-term viability is jeopardized by rapid forest conversion to commercial plantations.

Asian elephants are “flagship” species for their habitats – that is, charismatic representatives of the biodiversity within the complex ecosystems they inhabit. Because these large animals need a lot of space to survive, their conservation will help maintain biological diversity and ecological integrity over extensive areas and help many other species. Currently, it is estimated that the population of Sumatran elephant is around 2,400 to2,800 individuals.

Physical Description

Males rarely develop long tusks, while those of adult females may be so short that they are hidden by the upper lip. This elephant can live up to 70 years in captivity, less in the wild. Adult Sumatran elephants can reach 1.7-2.6 meters at the shoulder.


The leading threat to Sumatran elephants is the loss of their habitat to an unending parade of chainsaws and bulldozers. Sumatra has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world and the elephant population is disappearing even faster than the forests. This is because forest loss forces elephants into closer proximity to people, leading to conflict and elephant deaths as communities react to crop damage and property loss.

The pulp & paper and palm oil industries are the ones driving the loss of the elephants’ habitat. In addition, the subsequent creation of palm oil plantations leads to more human-elephant conflict, with the young palm trees a favorite food of elephants. There have been several mass poisonings of elephant groups in recent years on lands that had been converted from elephant habitat to commercial crops and where the elephants continued to feed.

WWF’s works for Sumatran Elephant conservation

WWF works in three landscapes in Sumatra that are important for elephant conservation: the Tesso Nilo Landscape in Riau Province, Bukit Barisan Selatan Landscape in Lampung Province and Bukit Tigapuluh Landscape in Jambi Province. All three landscapes feature a national park that is surrounded by lands under intense logging pressure or land that has already been converted to other uses.

In February 1999, WWF began establishing a “safe haven” for one of the largest remaining populations of the Sumatran elephant in Riau, Sumatra. A major breakthrough was achieved with the 2004 declaration of Tesso Nilo National Park in Riau, a significant step towards the protection of the elephant’s habitat.

In 2004, WWF introduced the first Elephant Flying Squad to a village near the newly established national park. It was a way to bring short-term relief to the intense conflict between people and elephants in the area and to create support for elephant conservation among hard-hit communities. The squad – consisting of a team of nine rangers and four trained elephants – drives wild elephants back into the forest whenever they threaten to enter villages. Since it began operating, the Tesso Nilo Flying Squad has significantly reduced the economic losses of the local community from elephant raids.