tv Earth Focus LINKTV May 29, 2014 6:00pm-6:31pm PDT
>> today on "earth focus"... elephants on the edge of extinction--two stories from asia, coming up on "earth focus." beneath the canopy of indonesia's rainforest, life comes together to produce an amazing symphony of wild sounds. [whistling] [low growl] [roaring] [chirping] [bellowing] but now, the rainforest's most booming voice is increasingly hard to find. [deep trumpet] the sumatran elephant teeters on
the edge of extinction, and there's no one else to blame but ourselves. [loud buzzing] it's here in grocery stores where the fate of indonesian elephants begins. you may have never heard of it, but palm oil, a common vegetable oil, has been a growing presence on supermarket shelves since the 1990s. it's high yield, versatility, and price make it an exceptional competitor against alternative vegetable oils. today, palm oil and its derivatives are present in 50% of all packaged food. products like bread, cookies, chocolate, chips, and even shower soap.
the consumer benefits, but the sumatran elephants pay a price. their habitat is cleared by legal and illegal loggers to make room for palm oil plantations. we sent our u.k. field producer jim wickens to the aceh region of north sumatra. here the leuser ecosystem is one of the last remaining strongholds for indonesian wildlife. it's a 6-million-acre protected park, but it's being illegally cut down to make room for palm oil. >> we've driven into the leuser ecosystem. this is a place of tigers, elephants, rhinos, and orangutans. it's supposed to be protected. but we've been tipped off by rangers here that there is illegal deforestation going on as we speak. we're going to go and try to film them and get right up close to the destruction.
keep going. we've been hiking for hours to get here, right on the edge of where the trees are being cut down. i'm standing just meters from where the chainsaws are operating. i'm whispering because we've been told by our guides that these people are highly dangerous. [chainsaws in background] and it's likely to get violent if we move any closer. [man shouts in distance] you can hear the trees falling through the canopy. it's one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. [chopping] and it's being destroyed. every day we consume palm oil, labeled as vegetable oil. and a lot of it is coming from
here in indonesia. they've converted the lowlands already. and now the palm oil plantations are moving up and up the slopes, to here, leuser rainforest. we've gotta go. >> leuser isn't the only place experiencing deforestation. since 1985, more than 50% of the forests in sumatra have been cleared, not just for palm oil plantations, but also for paper, wood, mines, and road infrastructure. what took thousands of years to grow is coming down at an alarming rate. >> look at that.
we traveled for over an hour, deep into this palm oil plantation, till we've got here, the front line of the expansion. this expansion here is illegal under indonesian law, and it's all happening for palm oil. this timber will be shipped off to market, and in its place, in a matter of days, young palm oil seedlings will be planted. >> palm oil is one of the most widespread vegetable oils throughout the world. within indonesia itself and also china and india, the 3 of them account for far more than half of the, uh, the world's consumption of palm oil. but the u.s. and european union are also major
players and can really, you know, set the standard for others to follow. >> we all know about the charismatic megafauna that live in africa--elephants, lions, hippos, things like that. i guess what's less known to the international community are the charismatic megafauna in asia, and particularly sumatra. so here we have aceh, 3.5 million hectares of rainforest, it contains about a third of the sumatran elephant population, uh, possibly a third of the sumatran tiger population. it contains nearly 90% of the sumatran orangutan population. it's critically important for the survival of large mammals, not just in sumatra but across asia as well. elephants prefer lowland forest habitat. that's their prime habitat. that's also the habitat or the land that's most in demand for agricultural plantations or for logging concessions as well. the expansion of palm oil
plantations certainly has been a key contributor to elephant forest habitat loss. that's without a doubt. >> the future of this mountain elephant is bleak. it's a really difficult situation. as long as there's a demand for oil palm there's going to be a demand to clear lowland rainforest in sumatra. >> the distinct and unique sumatran elephant is now considered critically endangered, meaning that it's in imminent danger of extinction. >> you know, when you don't have governments, when you don't have enforcement, and you got the chance to make piles of money, guess what's gonna happen. right, and we're seeing that play out. from a pure economic standpoint, you've got to sort of look at all the political actors. the palm oil is generating revenue for the government in terms of export taxes on palm oil, in terms of payroll taxes and payments into social security systems and all of the government programs. palm oil is more valuable than the forest right now because of the way we value forests.
>> while indonesia is looking to scale up its production of palm oil, this will come at a great cost. it will come at a great cost to the environment and the ecosystem. >> with their old homes deforested, elephants and other wildlife have to move somewhere. it's here in farming villages that humans and elephants collide. in aceh, communities rely on agriculture, and when elephants begin eating those crops, conflicts become deadly. >> [speaking local language]
>> loss of life isn't new to the people of aceh. for over 30 years, violent clashes occurred between rebels and the jakarta government, until 2004, when a peace treaty was signed. over 15,000 people died in that conflict. two years after the peace treaty, aceh was hit by a series of deadly floods, killing dozens. experts believe extensive logging in the surrounding hills caused the floods. >> [speaking local language]
>> with money on the line, it's often hard to find solutions that are good for both people and elephants. but with no solutions at all, the conflicts can turn ugly. baby elephants are often captured, domesticated, and used for entertainment. >> [speaking local language] [elephant growls] >> this is rajah the elephant. he's been named by the villagers who found him in a trap, on a plantation about a month ago. apparently he's just over a year old. as cute as he is, it's a really tragic story. he's on his own, chained up, padlocked, well away from his family, where he should be learning the skills to survive in the wild. and effectively, he's now doomed to a life of... being in a camp somewhere.
and this is--this is really very much the heart of the problem here in sumatra. the community are telling us that they're really fed up with the elephants coming in and taking food crops every day, from the wild. and they feel pretty strongly about, you know, the government needs to help them, not the elephants. and they're refusing to let rajah go, to give him to the government vets, until they get compensation for their crops. >> that compensation never came, and shortly after these images were taken, rajah died. >> [speaking local language] >> the body of an elephant lies rotting on the forest floor. a casualty of the human/elephant conflict, this elephant was killed using rat poison.
as more palm oil is planted and more habitat cleared, more elephants will find a similar fate. conflict elephants that aren't poisoned are often captured and placed in government-run camps. forcibly taken from their herds, these elephants now face a lifetime of captivity. despite the best effort of government employees at the camps, the issue of what to do with these so-called problem elephants remains largely unsolved. one nonprofit organization, fauna & flora international, is trying to help. their conservation response unit, or cru, made up of 14 elephants, is being deployed to prevent human/wildlife conflict.
effective on the small scale, um, and also in the short term. at the end of the day, as elephant habitat shrinks, elephants are going to spend more and more time coming out of the forest. so the long-term solution is not community based initiatives to drive elephants back to the forest. the long-term solution is to make sure there's enough room for the elephants to live in the natural habitat without having to come into human habitation. >> the best hope to conserve the sumatran elephant is actually to conserve the ones in aceh, because that's where the biggest populations are. so in order to conserve the elephants, we've got to conserve those lowland rainforests, which means conserving leuser. >> graham usher is trying to do just that. he is a man on a mission. he is using new technology to capture an aerial view of the illegal logging operations. he hopes it will help protect elephant habitat.
>> we've been flying a uav, unmanned aerial vehicle. that gives us the capacity to fly program missions over a set route with cameras and other sensors on board, so we can basically get an aerial view of what's going on on the ground. >> [indistinct] >> ok, can you hold this? ok, she's on course. good airspeed. ground speed's ok. today we saw that a very large area of regrowth forest in the leuser ecosystem has been cleared and is being replanted with palm oil. this sort of work, collection of evidence, provides us with a much stronger case when you go to decisionmakers and say, look, this is what's going on. these are your laws. why isn't action
being taken? it's very likely that palm oil from these, uh, illegally logged areas will end up on supermarket shelves unless we are very, very careful. >> as consumers, we need to be far more wary of which products contain palm oil and put pressure on the retailers and the food industry to ensure that those products contain palm oil that comes from sustainable sources. >> we do have an opportunity. previous to all of this, it was really a seller's market, although there was much more demand than there was supply. and so this is really the time to really push hard around the palm issue, because it is gonna be about access to markets. so we've got a little bit of leverage, but we really also have to take the fight and the conversation to the chinas, the indias, and the indonesias, because they have a great, great role in terms of being able to put market pressure and try to change it.
>> [speaking local language] >> whenever i go to sumatra, whenever i walk into the forest in sumatra, it's like walking into a wall of diversity. it's incredible. if we could save sumatran elephants in these lowland areas of sumatra, we we would be saving so much more than elephants. that to me is the crux, is this huge amount of biodiversity that you're saving by protecting the--this magnificent creature that is the sumatran elephant.
>> if we don't take urgent action, a few years down the road we will be looking at the leuser ecosystem and saying, my god, why didn't we do more when we had the chance? >> for baby elephants like this, the future remains uncertain. if deforestation continues, it is unlikely the sumatran elephants will survive. but people can make a difference before it's too late and the elephants disappear forever. while elephants in sumatra face habitat loss from palm oil, elephants in thailand face a completely different set of problems. here, tourism is fueling the illegal trade of baby elephants. >> [speaking thai] >> elephant rides, festivals,
and camps are a must for thousands of tourists who flock to thailand each year. but beyond the happy smiles, there is a dark reality behind the origin of these elephants. a brutal trade that experts claim threatens the survival of some of the world's last remaining populations of asian elephants. >> we traveled to the region of chiang mai in northern thailand, home to many of the elephant camps enjoyed by tourists. >> there have been recent sites based in africa watching elephants, among other things, for a very, very long time, whereas in asia there's very little research has been done. very little has been said about the dramatic drop in population.
no one would have any idea that this species is also endangered. >> john roberts runs an elephant camp. he was one of the first to recognize the link between the supply of elephants for the tourism industry and elephant hunting in the wild. >> we've been jumping up and down saying, if you buy an elephant, you're probably taking another elephant out of the wild. we realized very early on that buying elephants was causing a problem and hurting the wild population or at least the burmese population. >> the hunting of wild elephants is illegal in thailand, but experts claim the practice is widespread in neighboring burma, and it threatens the last healthy populations of asian elephants that reside there. baby elephants are particularly sought after. >> it's very attractive to tourists or thai people, so everybody wants baby elephants, and they are worth a lot of money. you don't need any documents, no microchip, so it's super easy. you go into the jungle, you catch an elephant, you train them, and a month later you can get like 600,000
baht, and if you can imagine how much money this is in thailand and how easy it is to do... >> teams of hunters surround herds of elephants, killing the parents and other adults who try to defend their young. investigations have revealed that as many as 5 adults may be slain for every calf captured. the defenseless calves are then smuggled across the border. these rarely seen images show elephants being forced to endure a cruel spirit-breaking ritual known as the fashong. these activities take place in remote camps on the burmese border, far from the public eye. >> in thailand, they use sharp things to stab them. they use knives, they use axe, they use a stick to beat them. anything that will make the elephant painful and afraid of people. a lot of them die. we have a
record how the elephant dies. die from suffocate, die from starvation, die from the stress, and some of them die from the heartbreak because they couldn't accept it. >> while the lucrative trade in wild elephant smuggling is illegal in thailand, lek alleges that it involves corruption on various levels. >> have the police involved, have the military involved. you know, if you want to make birth certificate or i.d. card, you can fake it. big money for the official to issue the paper. >> once you are confronting these influential people that are above the law, it can get quite dangerous. there were some camp owners that like told me literally that if i was a guy i would be dead already. >> shortly before the making of this film, a local informant in the area disappeared. activists fear the worst but carry on nevertheless. >> people who work with the animal in this country, they're afraid. myself, i afraid, too,
but to be honest, the animal are more afraid. >> we put these allegations to the deputy director of the national parks authority, whose remit is to protect and police the country's wildlife. >> [speaking thai] >> but despite such assurances, evidence suggests trade in wild calves is still ongoing. >> investigations in the last 6 months and conversations have been had with traders and elephant owners have shown at least 14 wild-caught calves have been traded across the border from burma into thai camps. and we believe this is just a fraction of the numbers.
>> elephant advocates claim the presence of scarred baby elephants at the recent surin elephant festival also highlight the need for urgent action. >> the world has lost up to 90% of its asian elephants in the last 100 years. and unless actually more is done to protect this species and stop activities such as the illegal live trade, then we're going to lose the asian elephant in the wild forever. what we're asking for is only a registration of captive bull calves so that they're actually registered within two weeks of birth. and to make this even stronger, we're also calling for a dna database. >> now, with all this proof that we have, is really the moment to form an international community to, you know, push thailand to really enforce the law and finally really protect the wild elephants. >> until then, the plight of burma's wild elephants continues to hang in the balance. gg99ññwç
>> hello, and welcome to global 3000. i'm michaela kufner with your weekly check on the global issues that make an impact. and here's what we have coming up over the next half hour. more than a parakeet -- how colombia tries to preserve the bird species that can only be found here. volunteering for a better society -- how young professionals in panama inspire change. and training malawi's youth for the future -- where football makes youngsters fit for life.