“The goal is to prevent conflict,” explained Barokah, a mahout, or elephant rider, patting his large charge, Nelson.
Nelson, a gentle giant named after a prominent local palm oil executive, has a tusk-sized hole in his ear from when a wild male elephant attacked him during one of the clearance operations, making him something of a hero to the squadron’s mahouts.
The village of Gajah Makmur is ringed by charred soil, as locals clear the surrounding rain forest to make room for a palm plantation. As a result of regional development, herds of displaced elephants have begun tearing into palm plantations at the edge of the village, damaging the crops and terrifying locals.
“People ask why the lands that they tend to are being destroyed by these elephants,” the village chief, Gutomo, said. He said it would be difficult to stop his villagers from killing wild elephants if the invasions continued.
Mr. Gutomo then reflected on the village’s bad luck of being visited by elephants. “It’s all because our village has the wrong name,” he said, chuckling.