Forest fires difficult to control? Call in the pachyderm patrol. Officials in Indonesia are using trained elephants outfitted with water pumps and hoses to help patrol forests and control fires. For nearly three months, Riau province in East Sumatra has been blanketed by smoke from forest fires and land clearing, especially in peat-rich areas where flames are difficult to contain. At the elephant conservation center in Siak district, 23 trained elephants are being used as "forest watchdogs." Carrying water pumps and other equipment, elephants and their crews patrol burned areas in the national forest to ensure that fires don't reappear after smoldering beneath the peat lands.
The head of the Riau Forestry Division says the elephants had earlier been trained to help patrol forests to find people encroaching illegally, as well as to resolve frequent conflicts between wild elephants and people by driving the wild elephants that enter human settlements back to their habitat. So far, Indonesia has been unable to put out the raging fires this year because of intentional burning and a rain shortage. In what George Monbiot calls the biggest environmental disaster of our time, an estimated 4.2 million acres of forests and plantation land have been razed by fires throughout Sumatra and Borneo. (Indonesia also plans to put crocodiles to work as prison guards.)