Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The plight of the palm oil elephants

There are precious few elephants left in Borneo, and the population gets smaller every year.

Forests where they live are being slashed to make way for palm oil plantations, making it more and more difficult for elephants and farmers to thrive together in close quarters.

Photojournalist Aaron 'Bertie' Gekoski has been documenting the situation in southeast Asia.
A species in decline

It is thought that Borneo's elephants are a subspecies of the endangered Asian elephant (Elephus maximus), although scientists have yet to classify them as such.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Asian elephant populations have dwindled by 50% over the last three generations, as their habitats are shrinking and fragmenting.

Adult elephants can spend up to 19 hours a day feeding, and they roam for hundreds of kilometres through grassland, forests and scrubland. Their size means they need large areas of land to live comfortably - but their forest homes are being encroached upon by human homes, plantations and farms.

This pressure to find space has led to more and more conflicts between humans and elephants when elephants eat or trample crops. It's a particularly large problem in Indonesia and Malaysia, where huge areas of forests have been lost to palm oil plantations.

The plight of the elephants is perfectly captured in the image above, Palm-oil survivors, by environmental photojournalist Aaron Gekoski. It is in the current Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

Taken on a cleared palm oil plantation in Borneo, in the Malaysian state of Sabah, three generations of elephants are dwarfed by a scene of devastation around them.

With the light fading fast he quickly shot the four majestic mammals, reflecting on how they are 'dwarfed by a desolate and desecrated landscape'.

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