Citing WWF data, the Program Coordinator of Tiger and Elephant Species of WWF in Indonesia, Sunarto, said here on Tuesday that the elephant population had declined from 1,342 in 1985 to 210 in 2007.
"People think that the elephant is their enemy. One of the websites of a palm oil plantation had put elephants in the same category as caterpillars and other pests," he added.
WWF reported 27 cases of elephant deaths last year, comprising 15 in Riau (eastern Sumatra) and 12 in Aceh (northern Sumatra).
"The elephants` habitat has declined over the years. Therefore, only a few of them are left in what remains of the deep forests of Sumatra," Sunarto explained.
"The decline is mainly due to palm oil plantation companies that are increasingly encroaching upon the elephants` habitat. And elephants feed on young palm trees," he continued.
"Therefore, the animal has become an enemy of the palm oil industry and the plantation people do everything - from shooing them away by bursting firecrackers to even using poison - to keep the elephants away," Sunarto said.
He noted that the conflict between elephants and palm oil businessmen was not a recent development but was becoming worse over time as forest land was getting increasingly exploited for palm oil farming.
"The WWF has also reported about the systematic illegal hunting of elephants, which has led to an increasing number of elephant deaths in the region," Sunarto pointed out.
"We have also found evidence. Many elephants have been found dead with their tusks cut off and missing," he added.