Two Rare Elephants Shot Dead in Protected Indonesia Forest

Two Sumatran elephants were found dead with gunshots to the head in a protected forest in western Indonesia, a conservationist said Tuesday.

Park rangers have been riding the animals for weeks in the Kerinci National Park and surrounding areas to prevent entry by illegal loggers, who have been clearing jungles at an alarming rate to make way for palm oil and other commercial plantations.

Though provincial conservation chief Andi Basrul refused to speculate on a motive for the shootings, he said they appeared to have been carried out by professional poachers.

Basrul said the Sumatran elephants were both 20-year-old females. Rangers found their bodies on March 24, hours after they were used for a patrol and several hundred yards (meters) from their camp.

Conservationists believe there are less that 3,000 Sumatran elephants remaining in the wild.

"It is a big blow to our efforts to protect these endangered animals," Basrul said.

The habitats of Sumatran elephants are quickly shrinking due to illegal logging and land clearing. That has led, increasingly, to clashes with humans, often because the starving animals stray into villages and destroy crops in their search for food.

An investigation will be carried out into the latest attack in Bengkulu province on Sumatra island, said Yatim Suyatmo, a police spokesman.