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Baby elephant held for ransom

Philippa Lees
Wednesday, July 3, 2013

This baby elephant, nicknamed Raja, was captured by Indonesian villagers and held to ransom after he destroyed some of their crops.

They demanded the Sumatran government pay for the damage and said if it wouldn't, Raja would be taught tricks to earn the money himself.

A UK elephant conservation charity, Elephant Family, launched a campaign to rescue the starving elephant, but last week he was found dead chained to his tree.

It sounds barbaric, but Elephant Family representative Jo Cary-Elwesthe said the villagers were using Raja to send a message to the government about deforestation and their actions were desperate.

"Baby Raja's death is a symbol of a much wider problem caused by deforestation, vested commercial interests and government inaction.

"As the forests in Sumatra are cut down, elephants are made homeless. Stressed and starving herds flee from the chainsaws in search of safety and food, and as the elephants walk through farmland they destroy crops and livelihoods."

Cary-Elwes says that the Sumatran elephants are now critically engaged.

"The villagers that took Raja captive were desperate.

"By keeping Raja they hoped the Sumatran government would listen and protect them from the tragic fallout of extensive habitat loss. But their ill-conceived action and inexperience ultimately cost Raja his life," she said.

"They are in imminent danger of extinction. Eighty-five percent of their habitat is located outside of protected areas and is constantly vulnerable."

So far the government has not moved to slow deforestation and the harvesting of palm oil.

To find out more or support Elephant Family, head to www.elephantfamily.org

Author: Philippa Lees

Approving editor: Rory Kinsella