Endangered and beloved Sumatran elephant Yongki killed in apparent ivory poaching

Yongki the Sumatran elephant was found dead in his enclosure. Photo: Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.

There may be as few as 2400 Sumatran elephants still alive on the planet. One of their tame brethren, who worked with humans to protect wild ones from being killed, was killed on Friday--apparently for his tusks. Indonesian authorities today described the incident as a “murder and a theft,” and called for a criminal investigation.

The Sumatran elephant has been decimated by deforestation and habitat destruction, but also by the international poaching trade. Poachers can make a lot of money selling tusks to people who believe in bullshit Chinese folk woo that elephant tusks cure various illnesses. The incredibly rare and expensive black market tusks are also considered part of Chinese artistic cultural heritage, and carvings can fetch unbelievable sums from U.S. dealers mostly concentrated in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Yongki was no ordinary critically endangered Sumatran elephant, however. He performed a special job with humans, by acting as a sort of mediator or calm-the-fuck-down anti-hype man with wild elephants who lived in the area. When wild elephants became upset, Yongki could be employed to help chill them out, so villagers whose crops were being trampled wouldn't feel compelled to kill them.

Yongki's corpse.

Agence-France Presse via Rappler:

Yongki, a tame creature who worked with teams of elephant keepers, was found dead close to the camp where he lived in a national park on the western island of Sumatra, said park official Timbul Batubara.

His one-meter (3-foot) tusks had been hacked off, leaving just bloody stumps, and his legs still bore the chains put on him by his keepers to ensure he stayed in the camp.

A park official who spoke to AFP said Yongki hadn't been shot, because the body discovered on Friday showed no bullet wounds. His tongue was blue, however, which suggests that he may have been poisoned--as other elephant poaching victims have.

Yongki was 35. Sumatran Elephants can live to 70 years of age, maybe more.

The elephant was involved in patrols aimed at reducing tensions, with the tame elephants stopping wild elephants from rampaging through villages. The patrols also help rangers keep a lookout for illegal logging and poaching that threaten Indonesia's vast rain forests.

Sumatran elephant, (Elephas maximus sumatrensis) a member of Flying Squad in Tesso Nilo National Park, Riau, Indonesia. [WWF]

Sumatran elephant, (Elephas maximus sumatrensis) a member of Flying Squad in Tesso Nilo National Park, Riau, Indonesia. [WWF]

The World Wildlife Fund classifies the Sumatran elephant, which lives in Indonesia, as critically endangered. They estimate the total global population of this species to somewhere between 2,400 and 2,800.

Videos and images of Sumatran elephants below courtesy of World Wildlife Fund.

Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatrensis) playing in Tesso Nilo National Park, Riau, Indonesia. Both are members of Flying Squad Elephant Patrol. These elephants are deployed to minimize conflict between human and wild elephants in the outskirt of Tesso Nilo NP. [WWF]

Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatrensis) playing in Tesso Nilo National Park, Riau, Indonesia. Both are members of Flying Squad Elephant Patrol. These elephants are deployed to minimize conflict between human and wild elephants in the outskirt of Tesso Nilo NP. [WWF]