Giants used to roam over every single corner of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Elephas maximus sumatranus—Sumatran elephants—lived among the island’s thick and towering jungle. Until 40 years ago, there were still almost five thousand individuals of them.

But as plantations and industrial forest areas annexed the jungle, the elephants diminished. In 2017, the estimation plummeted to only less than two thousand individuals[1]. They even have been extirpated in numerous areas, namely West Sumatra Province[2]. Today, the population is still counting down.

Those remaining elephants are jammed into a more and more fragmented and shrinking habitat. Because of this, many packs are forced to wander near human settlements and plantations where conflicts become inevitable.

Weight: 3 - 5 tons
Maximum height: 3.2 meters

Stealing Heard of the Sumatran Forest

Elephants tend to live in humid, lowland forests. The same area was reduced by 7.5 million hectares in the span of 1990-2010[3].

Amid deforestation, few locations offer safe havens for the remaining population.

Sumatran elephant habitat distribution

Conservation designation zone

Oil palm concession

Welcome to Tesso Nilo
National Park!

A conservation region established to house wildlife, especially Sumatran elephants. The national park covers two regencies in Riau Province. But the habitat goes much wider than the national park’s enclosure as elephants commonly wander as far as 25 km beyond the border.

Sumatran elephant habitat distribution

Conservation designation zone

Oil palm concession

Elephant pouch area

One Crowded Habitat

This habitat is cramped by at least eight industrial forestry companies and other agricultural businesses. The dominating commodities include timber and oil palm, mostly private-owned. A significant portion of the area is also reserved for Social Forestry.

The map is acquired from Forest Utilization Map 2021 (Peta Indikatif Arahan Pemanfaatan Hutan Tahun 2021) by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry

How about the national park itself?

Notes: Image adapted from the Indicative Map of Forest Utilization Directions for 2021 by KLHK.

Conservation designation zone

Limited production forest area

Production forest area

Areas for increasing community access through HD/HKm/HTR

Oil palm concession

Distribution of elephant habitat

Kawasan kantung gajah


The Ever-Disappearing Room

As the area of TNNP expands, its trees vanish. Clear-cut deforestation happens blatantly in this conserved region. As of 2022, the remaining forest only occupies 16.8 % of the whole area.




2017 ...2001


An Oily Culprit!

Most of the natural forest is cut down to create plantations, specifically for oil palm industries. At least 50 percent of the whole area is transformed to be illegal oil palm plantations[5].

Natural Forest


Empty land

Social forestry

Choose a Map

How Does Oil Palm Affect
Elephant’s Habitat?

Local-owned oil palm plantations inside TNNP were already developed far before the region was designated to be a national park.

Act No. 5 of 1990 on the conservation of biological resources and their ecosystems emphasizes that every person is prohibited to perform any activity that would modify the core zones of national parks. The modification in question includes reducing or removing the functions and areas of national parks’ core zones and introducing non-native plants and animals to them.

Local-owned plantations are also found in Social Forestry areas that surround TNNP. This circumstance is also illegal as the cultivation of oil palm trees inside Social Forestry is prohibited under Article 56 Section 5 of the Decree of Ministry of Environment and Forestry No. P83 of 2016 on Social Forestry.

Food Supply

Water Supply

Roaming Territory

Elephants have extensive roaming territory. They can walk 20 kilometers in a day searching for food. Elephants regularly come back to the same route they took before. Conflicts become prone when these routes are altered for human use. According to Wanda, oil palm plantations do not alter the elephants’ roaming territory. Instead, the elephants would go across the plantations and encounter humans, a root to many humans and elephants' conflicts. More than often, elephants are accused as pests that destroy plantations, even though oil palm is not their main food source. They are forced to eat oil palm trees because of the lack of main food sources.

“First, here’s the logic. It's not the elephants that enter plantations, but humans that enter elephants’ habitat. There is the context. Don’t turn it all around,” Wanda stated.
Wanda explains that oil palm plantations definitely affect the water supply for elephants. Oil palm trees absorb a larger amount of water than other hardwoods[7]. At least a thousand liters of water is needed for each hectare of oil palm plantation[8]. On the other hand, an elephant needs two hundred liters of water each day. Elephants also need water to bathe. One research found that oil palm cultivation affects the stability of the forest’s water by depleting its debit up to 30 - 40 %[9].
As megafauna, Sumatran elephants need up to 150 kilograms of food each day. Wanda Kuswanda, a researcher from the Ecology and Ethnobiology Centre of the National Research and Innovation Agency, confirms that the intrusion of plantations into elephants’ habitat indeed reduces their food supply. Around 60 - 70 % of an elephant’s diet consists of undergrowth such as shrubs, herbs, and grass. The wide and dense canopy of oil palm trees can block sunlight which will inhibit the undergrowth’s regeneration.

Yoza and Sari (2008) show that food availability in each hectare of TNNP’s area is not sufficient to feed even a single elephant. This is one of the reasons why elephants search for new ground to meet their dietary needs and eventually enter farms and industrial concessions[6].

Looking at Conflicts

We acquired 185 data on human and elephant conflicts from NGOs’ databases and numerous news articles. We define the conflicts based on the Decree of the Ministry of Forestry No. P.48 of 2008 on the Directive to Human and Wildlife Conflicts Countermeasures as any negative interaction, direct or not, between humans and wildlife.

Location of Conflicts

Death-related conflicts

Conflicts with no related deaths


Number of Conflicts

- Death-related conflict data begins from 2010
- Non-death conflict data begins from 2016
- Data plotting is based on the location of the village or concession and does not show the exact coordinate of the conflict
- Satellite imageries are acquired from Google Earth Pro

Peta Deforestasi


Data not found


Data not found


2921 ha


5290 ha


15612 ha


15075 ha


16617 ha


12289 ha


9685 ha


4345 ha


9753 ha


1675 ha


1482 ha


1308 ha


711 ha


1805 ha

- Deforestation data refers to the region inside TNNP’s border.
- The area of deforestation is acquired from Global Forest Watch data.
- Satellite imageries are acquired from Google Earth Pro

What’s Next? Kesimpulan

Authorities should give significant attention to the troubled habitat if they are really serious about their conservation effort.

From the perspective of environment and natural resources management, the government has a role to control and acquire as much benefit as possible for every object they authorize in the interest of social prosperity. But, it should be underlined that together with it, they also bear the responsibility to preserve those same objects, including the intactness of any natural habitat, including every flora and fauna within, The dimension of this responsibility ranges from preventing potential damages to initiating rehabilitation if any damage occurs10].

Various efforts have been conducted to fix–or by the least, reduce–the damages done to TNNP. In response to the high number of human and elephant conflicts, Elephant Flying Squad was established where tamed elephants were trained to herd wild elephants from plantations and settlements. Another instance is the frequent circular letters published by the local governments. The latest was published on the 20th of January, 2002, which announced the prohibition of oil palm trees cultivation inside of the national park. Both were done by TNNP Agency as the authorizing body of the national park.

We have contacted Heru Sutmantoro, the head of the TNNP Agency to ask about the state of the national park today. But he is yet to give any response.

Besides the government, it is also important to keep the concession-owning companies accountable. The data has shown that death-related conflict frequently happened within those areas. By being ignorant of this issue, companies have violated Article of Act No. 5 of 1990 on the conservation of biological resources and their ecosystems which states that any holder of the ownership of the land and water must preserve the protection function continuity of the land and water in question.

In operating their business, companies have to refer to Act No. 32 of 2009 on environmental protection and management. As stated in Article 54 Section 1, any person or business entity that pollutes or damages the environment must rehabilitate the environmental function. The steps to the rehabilitation are elaborated in Article 54 Section 2[11].

Another major issue that needs to be resolved soon is the settlements of locals inside TNNP. the Decree of President No. 88 of 2017 offers some schemes to solve the problem of land ownership inside forest areas through non-litigious options. This includes moving the border of the national park, exchanging forest areas, permitting forest management access through social forestry programs, and resettling locals. Unfortunately, this decree does not accommodate the management of oil palm plantations inside forest areas[12].

Education around mitigation of human and wildlife conflict for locals is also crucial. This will ensure that any countermeasure is not harmful to both humans and elephants.

Three of them–the government, companies, and locals–have to synergize so that the ultimate purpose can be achieved: stopping the marching invasion of the Sumatran elephant’s habitat.


[1] Kementerian Lingkungan Hidup dan Kehutanan Republik Indonesia. 2020. Rencana Tindakan Mendesak Penyelamatan Populasi Gajah Sumatra (Elephas maximus sumatranus 2020-2023).
RENCANA TINDAKAN MENDESAK PENYELAMATAN POPULASI GAJAH Sumatra (Elephas maximus sumatranus) 2020-2023
[2] 2008. BKSDA: Gajah di Hutan Sumbar Sudah Punah.
Gajah di Hutan Sumbar Sudah Punah
[3] 2012. Deforestasi Melambat, Tapi Hutan Tropis Sumatra Kini Telanjur Musnah.
Deforestasi Melambat, Tapi Hutan Tropis Sumatra Kini Telanjur Musnah -
[4] Sejarah Kawasan TN. Tesso Nilo.
Sejarah Kawasan TN. Tesso Nilo
[5] 2022. Hutan TNTN Tinggal 16,8 Persen, Setengah Jadi Kebun Sawit.
Hutan TNTN Tinggal 16,8 Persen, Setengah Jadi Kebun Sawit
[6] Yoza, Defri, dkk. 2017. Daya Dukung Habitat Gajah Sumatra (Elephas maximus sumatranus Temminick) di Taman Nasional Tesso Nilo Provinsi Riau.
[7] Meitasari, Inge, dkk. 2014. Pengaruh Perkebunan Kelapa Sawit Terhadap Kuantitas Air dengan Pendekatan Neraca Air Tanaman (Studi Kasus di PT Rezeki Kencana)
pengaruh perkebunan kelapa sawit terhadap kuantitas air dengan pendekatan neraca air tanaman
[8] Bardun, Yeeri dan Mubarak. 2010. Dampak Industri Perkebunan Kelapa Sawit Terhadap Lingkungan Global.
[9] Taufiq, Mohammad, dkk. 2013. Pengaruh Tanaman Kelapa Sawit Terhadap Keseimbangan Air Hutan (Studi Kasus DAS Landak, DAS Kapuas).
pengaruh sawit thd air180-Article Text-359-1-10-20131223.pdf
[10] Fadli, Moh., dkk. 2016. Hukum dan Kebijakan Lingkungan. Malang: UB Press.
Hukum dan Kebijakan Lingkungan
[11] 2020. Satwa Dilindungi Kerap Mati di Area Konsesi: Perusahaan Harus Bertanggung Jawab!
[12] Bahtiar, Irfann dkk. 2019. Hutan Kita Bersawit. Jakarta: KEHATI
Bakhtiar dkk. (2019) - Hutan Kita Bersawit.pdf