The status of Sumatran Elephant has been escalated from endangered into critically endangered by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List in 2012. This mostly because the Sumatran Elephants have significant reduction in population number as indicated by the loss of over 69% of its potential habitat in just one generation (the last 25 years).
Currently, all elephants in West Sumatra have been extirpated, nine populations in Lampung have been lost, and six out of nine forest blocks that had elephants in 2007 in Riau had gone extinct. With total Sumatran Elephant around 2,400 – 2,800 individuals in 2007, that number most likely has been reduced to its half in current time.
In order to determine whether Sumatran Elephants categorized as critically endangered, scientists work hard to count elephant individual in wild places. Not only just number – by establishing this research – scientist and conservationist can design the right protection mechanism for saving this animal. But how do actually scientists conduct their research in estimating population size of Sumatran Elephants? Surprisingly, the scientist can get much information from elephant’s poop.
In the research recently held by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Indonesia Program along with their counterpart, Eijkman Institute, it reveals that the population of elephant can be estimated by using their poop. The project which hosted in Way Kambas National Park divided into two parts, the dung collected by WCS field staff then transported to Eijkman Molecular Institute for further examination in Jakarta.
WCS team has collected 310 dung sample followed by scraping dung’s slime using plastic spoon. The dung’s slime then inserted to tube contain with special liquid named Queen’s Buffer to preserve the Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). After that, DNA test conducted to extract samples in order to discover population estimation of the elephants. The process – named mark-recapture statistical approach – revealed an elephant population of 247 individuals in Way Kambas National Park in 2010 with a range of estimates of 220 to 278 individuals.
“If we look back in 2002, though using different technique, we estimate Way Kambas population to be 180 elephant individuals with a range of estimates 144 to 225. The data suggests that the population has remained stable or possibly increased,” said Wulan Pusparini and Simon Hedges, from WCS.
Aside of its advantages to count population, elephant’s poop could also used to discover the spread of age and sex in the population. Sex ratio determined by using DNA technique as well. From elephant individuals identified in Way Kambas, it can conclude that there are 1:6.4 male/ female sex ratios of elephants. Different from two methods above which using DNA based analysis, age analysis method carried by measuring circumference of dung bolus size then yielded following result: 34% are adults, 43.7% are sub-adults, and 22.3% are juvenile.
Way Kambas can be a role model for other Sumatran Elephant range area to conduct similar estimation population research. This is because Way Kambas is the only place in Sumatra where the scientifically trusted research of population estimation is successfully conducted from few places which also inhabited with Asian elephant.