Conflict Palm Oil Culprit Found Clearing Critical Sumatran Elephant Habitat

Chelsea Matthews headshot posted by Chelsea Matthews

Another Conflict Palm Oil Culprit has been found destroying the lowland rainforests of the Leuser Ecosystem. Field monitoring has identified that palm oil company PT. Tualang Raya is actively clearing forest in an area that is considered the world’s best remaining habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran elephant.


Photographic evidence of newly cleared forest inside the Leuser Ecosystem by palm oil company PT. Tualang Raya, Aceh Timur, August 2015. Photo: Paul Hilton for RAN


Contrast between standing forest of the Leuser Ecosystem and land that has been cleared by palm oil company PT. Tualang Raya, August 2015. Photo: Paul Hilton for RAN

The Leuser Ecosystem is a global biodiversity hotspot covering over 6.5 million acres of forests on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Considered as one of the most important areas of intact rainforests left in Southeast Asia, the Leuser Ecosystem is home to the last stands of critically endangered Sumatran elephants, orangutans, tigers and rhinos. In fact, it is the last place on Earth where these iconic species still roam side by side. The Leuser Ecosystem also provides valuable ecosystem services such as helping to regulate our global climate, providing a clean water supply to millions of people living in the region, and buffering against natural disasters like floods and landslides.

The lowland forests of the Leuser Ecosystem are of special importance as they provide critical habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran elephant. The lowland forests and the species that depend on them face the greatest risk within the whole Leuser Ecosystem because they are the targets for industrial palm oil expansion. Continued expansion of industrial palm oil plantations—often done illegally—will condemn several species to probable extinction in the wild.

One of the species being pushed to the brink of extinction is the critically endangered Sumatran elephant. The lowland rainforests are home to migratory paths used by some of the last wild populations of Sumatran elephants. Palm oil plantations are expanding into the forest in a fragmented manner, which cuts off key migratory corridors for elephants, making it more difficult for elephant families to find adequate sources of food and water. New roads and fragmentation of the forest also gives poachers easy access to Sumatran elephants and other species hunted for trade on the black market. 


Family of critically endangered Sumatran elephants pictured in the Leuser ecosystem, August 2015. Photo: Paul Hilton for RAN

As the last hope for the survival of the Sumatran elephant, the lowland rainforests of the Leuser Ecosystem are too important to lose. PT. Tualang Raya must immediately and permanently halt the clearance of rainforests in the Leuser Ecosystem.

The three biggest buyers of palm oil from the Leuser Ecosystem region—Musim Mas Group, Wilmar International and Golden Agri-Resources—have adopted policies that commit to halting forest destruction in their supply chains. We need these buyers to take urgent action to intervene and secure the permanent protection of the priceless Leuser Ecosystem.

You can take action to save the Sumatran elephant’s habitat by calling on these palm oil buyers to enforce a moratorium on the clearance of rainforests and peatlands in the Leuser Ecosystem.