The government of Indonesia today declared its commitment to enlarging the most suitable block of forest for Sumatran elephants, expanding the vital Tesso Nilo National Park on Sumatra island to 86,000 hectares.

"This is an important milestone toward securing a future for the Sumatran elephant and tiger," said Dr. Mubariq Ahmad, WWF-Indonesia's Chief Executive.

“To ensure that the commitment is effectively implemented, we must redouble our efforts on the ground to eliminate poaching and illegal settlements within this special forest.”

Tesso Nilo is one of the last havens of endangered Sumatran elephants and critically endangered Sumatran tigers. With more than 4,000 plant species recorded so far, the forest of Tesso Nilo has the highest lowland forest plant biodiversity known to science, with many species yet to be discovered. Tesso Nilo National Park was created in 2004 in Riau Province, but only 38,000 hectares of forest were included.

With today’s declaration, the government of Indonesia is to extend the national park into 86,000 ha by Dec 2008 and integrate an additional 18,812 ha into the national park management area of 100,000 ha.

WWF has been supporting the government effort to extend and protect the park as the last block of lowland forest in central Sumatra large enough to support a viable elephant population. About 60 to 80 elephants are estimated to live there, along with 50 tigers. Tesso Nilo forest is also an important watershed for more than 40,000 people living in the surrounding 22 villages.

“Tesso Nilo is still under serious threat from illegal activities, but if we can protect the forests there, it will give some of Sumatra’s most endangered wildlife the breathing room they need to survive,” Dr Ahmad said.

“And while we greatly appreciate this precedent for more protection from the Indonesian government, there are other areas on Sumatra that need safeguarding for the sake of its wildlife, its threatened indigenous peoples and to reduce the climate impacts of clearing.”

WWF helped establish and supports the Tesso Nilo Community Forum, run by all 22 local communities living in the buffer zone of the national park. The forum supports joint actions to protect the Tesso Nilo forest and gives the communities a unified and more influential voice in park management.

WWF is working with local communities that suffer from human-wildlife conflict as a result of disappearing forests in the province.

Hundreds of elephants have died in the last few years. A successful Elephant Flying Squad uses domesticated elephants and mahouts to keep wild elephants inside the park from raiding village crops outside the park.

WWF also promotes the planting of buffer crops that are not attractive to elephants. “WWF is committed for finding solutions for Sumatra’s people and wildlife and the global environment,” Dr Ahmad said.

“This is where the focus should be, rather than on the narrower interests of global pulp and palm oil conglomerates.”