Photo credit: Ecologist Film Unit (Ulet Ifansasti) and/or Elephant Family: http://www.elephantfamily.org/
[NOTE: This piece got thousands of hits on the day the story about RAJU (note the “u”) was first published in the international media (7/8/2014) — and still gets more daily.
BUT THIS IS NOT ABOUT RAJU! It’s about Raja, because many are apparently looking for stories about RAJU (note the different spelling; with a “u” not an “a” at the end) the 50 year old captive elephant who supposedly cried after finally being rescued after a life of torture, abuse and imprisonment. That particular punishingly sad story for 50 years, but with an uplifting ending, can be found here:
But this is a different, yet equally sad elephant story about similarly-named RAJA]
This is such a tragic, heartbreaking and maddening story. Weeks ago, the Ecologist Film Unit, accompanied by the NGO Elephant Family, was documenting the “environmental genocide” going on in Sumatra, that is, the disappearing rainforest in the (once) wilds of Aceh Province, Sumatra, and how that rainforest depletion is killing off all the great biodiversity and critically endangered species who inhabit it, like the Sumatran elephant. Apparently unplanned, the film crew stumbled on angry local villagers who were holding a baby wild elephant, nicknamed Raja (look at that adorable photo above), hostage for what comes naturally to an elephant when its forest habitat is depleted and it’s hungry — foraging for food, which destroyed the palm oil crops planted by these now-angry villagers. (Look, I get it that this is the villagers’ livelihood.)
Despite the NGO’s efforts to get the elephant released, Raja was kept tethered to a chain for weeks. No vet could visit. Nobody was allowed to release the elephant. The villagers just wanted to keep him hostage, demanding government compensation for the damage. Their crops are being destroyed by elephants without a home, and in the escalating man v. nature battle raging in Sumatra the humans wanted to win.
Nicknamed Raja by the people who fed him, the baby elephant cuts a pitiful sight, straining for food at the end of a rusty padlock and chain. Caught in a plantation in Aceh Utara last month, the villagers said they were keeping him here by force. Government vets have tried to remove him, but they refused, demanding compensation for the damage that elephants do to their land first. Farmer Sabaruddin, showed us chewed up banana leaves, missing coco pods and a hut verging on collapse, all surrounded by tell-tale feet marks of thieving elephants, that he says are drastically impacting on the livelihoods of the community here.
‘The people are angry when the elephants destroy the fields, because it is not just one or two years waiting to harvest, but sometimes for many years. When we are about to harvest the elephants had already come and destroyed the field. We plant again and then just when it’s about time to harvest, it’s destroyed again’, he said. Deprived of full time veterinarian care, Raja died two weeks later at the end of his chain. He is not alone.
Yes, you know how this story ends. Raja died. It’s soul-crushing, and yet it happened despite laws on the books in Indonesia that prevent this very crime. Obviously, there’s no enforcement but the villagers involved should still be punished in some form as a deterrent to future action. (Watch the video at the below Daily Mail UK site. A villager hops on a captive Raja’s back.)
What I want to know is why didn’t someone just cut that flimsy little chain and kidnap the elephant and release him? Why didn’t anybody do that?! Why did this fall through the cracks?!
Here are some of the Indonesian laws that were specifically violated:
Act 23/1997 Basic Provision for the Management of Living Environment
Government Regulation No. 8/1999 for Utilization of Fauna and Flora
Act 41/1999 for Forestry Management, No. 7/1999 for Preservation of Fauna and Flora
(Thanks Sumatra Environmental Education Concern, https://sites.google.com/site/sumatraeec/)
Photo credit and copyright ownership: Daily Mail UK, Jim Wickens/The Ecologist Film Unit, and/or Elephant Family.
- The terrible fate of Raja the baby elephant, chained and held hostage by an angry mob: An image that will haunt you and a story that will enrage you (dailymail.co.uk)