Seven Sumatran elephants have been found dead in western Indonesia. It is thought the critically endangered animals were poisoned, a wildlife official said yesterday.
Dozens of elephants have died after being poisoned in recent years on Sumatra Island, as the creatures come into conflict with humans due to the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations that destroys their habitat.
The latest to die were a female adult, five male teenagers and a male calf believed to be from the same herd, said local wildlife agency spokesman Muhammad Zanir. The remains were found on February 16 just outside Tesso Nilo National Park. It is thought they died five months earlier.
"There is an indication that they were poisoned," he said. "Some people may consider the elephants a threat to their palm oil plantations and poison them."
While Sumatran elephants are regularly found dead, it is rare to discover so many at the same time.
Swathes of rainforest have been destroyed in recent years to make way for plantations, and villagers increasingly target Sumatran elephants, which they regard as pests. While most concessions for palm oil companies are granted outside Tesso Nilo, in Riau province in eastern Sumatra, many villagers still illegally set up plantations inside the park, according to global conservation body the WWF.
Poachers also target the animals - the smallest of the Asian elephants - for their ivory tusks.
The WWF says there are only between 2,400 and 2,800 Sumatran elephants remaining in the wild. It warns they could face extinction in less than 30 years.