An oil palm plantation watchman, Waklung, 52, died after being trampled by a herd of feral elephants not far from his house in Koto Pait hamlet, Serai Wangi village, Pinggir district, Bengkalis regency.
Head of the local environmental group, Mandau Nature Society, Zul Husni Syukri, said the incident took place on March 21 at around 8 p.m. local time.
"The incident occurred when hamlet residents were driving away a herd of around 30 wild elephants that had entered their farms seeking food," Zul told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
Oil palm farmers jointly drove away the elephants whenever they came near, he added.
The herd of elephants was driven to a farm owned by Tewin, a local resident. Waklung was on guard duty.
"Residents stopped chasing the elephants at the farm watched by Waklung. They thought Waklung was away and were unaware he was resting in his hut," said Zul.
The residents were then startled by screams coming from Tewin's farm. After investigating they found Waklung, who hailed from Kalimantan, dead on the ground.
As forested areas have been converted into farms, elephants tend to migrate between neighbouring plantations. Whenever elephants come, farmers join together to move them away, generally moving from one plantation to another.
According to Zul, the farm guarded by Waklung is located just 6 kilometers from the where a wild elephant was shot and killed, its tusks hacked off by poachers on Feb. 10 this year.
"One of the poachers, arrested by the Riau Police, hails from Koto Pait. Residents believe the dead elephant came from the same herd that trampled Waklung. Residents of Pinggir believe the incident to be an act of vengeance," said Zul.
According to him, residents have long believed that wild animals like tigers and elephants exact revenge if one of their group is killed.
Zul has urged the relevant authorities to take action so as to prevent the same from happening again. "The provincial government must act, as it has so far been keeping quiet as residents confront wild animals," he said.
World Wide Fund for Nature Indonesia's (WWF) Riau programme spokesperson Syamsidar said he believed the herd of elephants came from the Balai Raja Wildlife Refuge in Mandau district, Bengkalis.
"Currently, the elephant-passage to Mandau is hampered by the West Duri Ring Road project. They are afraid to cross when heading home to Balai Raja due to the huge number of workers, so they are trapped at residents' farms," said Syamsidar.
The WWF and other environmental groups have urged the local administration to reconsider the road project due to its deleterious effect on the elephant habitat.
"As the road bisects the natural elephant track, human-to-elephant conflict increases. Elephants have never altered their roaming range and the routes they use are the same their whole life," added Syamsidar.
Syamsidar also urged the government to restore, or reinstate, the function of the Balai Raja Wildlife Refuge, most of which has been damaged and converted into oil palm farms. Of the 18,000 hectares (ha) in the original refuge area, just 150 ha of forest remain intact.
"It is unfortunate that the Balai Raja Wildlife Refuge is allowed to be converted into oil palm farms. Protection of the area must be enhanced because the conservation area is an elephant habitat with the second-largest elephant population in Riau. When the source of food in nature runs out, the elephants will switch to the residents' farms," Syamsidar added.