Want a pet? Adopt an endangered elephant as part of conservation project

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Anna, Bella, Cinta, Dadang and Elena are five Indonesian elephants available for "adoption" as part of a conservation project to save endangered Asian elephants and allow them to remain living in the wild.

While African elephants face growing danger due to a rising toll from poaching, Asia's elephants are in danger due to a loss of habitat, said conservationists with the International Elephant Project, which was launched on Friday in Sydney.

Deforestation on Sumatra island has seen elephants poisoned by villagers trying to protect their crops from the hungry animals, said Mr Leif Cocks, one of the project's founders.

"As their habitat disappears, there's increasing conflict with local communities, with deaths on both sides," he said, noting that while there are Indonesian laws in place to protect the remaining forest, enforcement is not as strong as desired.

"The Asian elephants are far more critically endangered than the African elephants because the numbers are less," Mr Cocks told Reuters in a recent telephone interview.

"The first elephants we're concentrating on are Sumatran elephants, who really do have their backs to the walls. There's 1,200 to maximum 1,600 left in the wild, and they're in fragmented populations."

The five elephants available for "adoption" are each part of a different herd in Sumatra's Bukit Tigapuluh area, which has recently seen rapid deforestation due to palm oil and paper plantations. Each is equipped with a GPS collar, which allows project monitors to keep track of each herd and their movements.

The collars let project workers know when elephants are approaching populated areas and allows them to herd them away before any problems develop. Adoption start from A$65(S$86) and includes regular updates on each elephant from the GPS data.

Other Indonesian wildlife endangered, include the Sumatran tiger. In the last 70 years, Indonesia has lost both the Bali tiger and the Java tiger.