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Sumatran Elephants Pushed Toward Extinction

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Lisa, a Sumatran elephant calf, stays close to her mother in Tesso Nilo National Park, Riau, Indonesia. (Image credit: Credit: © WWF-Indonesia.)

The Sumatran elephant, an endangered species native to the Indonesian island for which it is named, could disappear from the wild in 30 years if drastic measures aren't taken to save its habitat from destruction, according to international conservation organizations.

The Asian elephant subspecies, one of the smallest of the elephants, was recently moved from the "endangered" list to the "critically endangered" list by the IUCN, an independent international body that assesses the conservation status of species around the world.

The elephants lost half their population and 70 percent of their habitat in just one generation, or 25 years. Only an estimated 2,400 to 2,800 of the animals remain in the wild.

Sumatran forest elephants taking a bath. (Image credit: © naturepl.com /Nick Garbutt / WWF.)

The decline has been largely driven by deforestation and the conversion of habitat for agricultural use, a trend that is "continuing essentially unchecked," according to the IUCN report.

The researchers noted that nine populations in the province of Lampung have been lost since the mid-1980s, and a 2009 forest survey in the province of Riau found that in just two years, six herds had gone extinct. "That this pattern will continue seems certain," the report said.

A cleared forest in Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia. (Image credit: © Alain Compost / WWF-Canon.)

Overall, the island of Sumatra has lost more than two-thirds of its natural lowland forest — the most suitable habitat for elephants — in the past 25 years.

Pulp and paper companies, such as Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), and palm oil plantations are driving the rapid rates of deforestation, according to conservation organization WWF.

Habitat fragmentation has confined some herds to small forest patches, and these populations are not likely to survive in the long term.

"The Sumatran elephant joins a growing list of Indonesian species that are critically endangered, including the Sumatran orangutan, the Javan and Sumatran rhinos and the Sumatran tiger," said Carlos Drews, director of WWF’s Global Species Program, in a statement.

"Unless urgent and effective conservation action is taken, these magnificent animals are likely to go extinct within our lifetime," he said.

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Live Science Staff
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