Yongki, a beloved Sumatran elephant has been ruthlessly killed and his tusks taken by poachers in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, spurring an investigation by park officials. Sumatran elephants are a highly endangered species, with an estimated 2,000 or less left in the wild. But Yongki wasn’t just an endangered elephant; he was also a park ranger, part of a conservation response unit.
For most of his 35 years, Yongki had lived around people. He, along with a handful of other elephant rangers and elephant riders called mahouts, patrolled the jungles of southern Sumatra every day to protect the habitat against illegal loggers, farmers encroaching on the park, and ivory poachers. They also helped drive wayward elephants back into the jungle to prevent retaliatory killings by farmers.
It is believed that Yongki had been poisoned, because his tongue was bright blue when the mahouts found his body on Friday. Now there were just bloody stumps where his beautiful 3-foot tusks once were. He bled to death when his tusks were hacked off by the poachers.
Over the past 10 years, poaching has significantly diminished the Sumatran elephant population and it has been an ongoing struggle to protect them. In 2014, 45 elephants were murdered, a 55% increase of the numbers killed the previous year. Following major successes in February when five poachers were caught along with eight suspected ivory traffickers, this is a big setback for Sumatra.
The mahouts are shaken and are mourning the loss of their special elephant colleague, but Yongki’s death has also reignited the international debate over trophy hunting and poaching, just two months after the brutal murder of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe. Some on social media sites are advocating a “shoot on sight” policy applied to poachers. Perhaps this barbaric, senseless killing will only stop if such a policy is instituted.