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Beloved Elephant Yongki Killed by Ivory Poachers, Sparks Outrage

The brutal killing of a beloved elephant in Indonesia has sparked online anger, similar to the global outrage from the killing of Zimbabwe's Cecil the lion.

According to AFP, it's suspected that Yongki, a 35-year-old Sumatran elephant who helped patrol Indonesian jungles, died of poisoning at the hands of poachers. His maimed and bloodied body was found nearby a camp at the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park where he had lived.

He was found Friday around 7:30 p.m with his three-foot long tusks hacked off, "leaving just bloody stumps," with his legs still bearing the chains placed onto him by his keepers to ensure he stayed in the camp, the news agency reported.

"We are mourning the lost of an elephant who has been helping us in handling conflicts and helping forest rangers patrol the forest, and he was a good elephant," Nazaruddin (who goes by one name), the head of the Indonesian Mahout Forum, told AFP.

Yongki's keepers were "very shaken," Nazaruddin added.

A report from The Washington Post explains why Yongki will be sorely missed:

Along with his mahouts—a term used across south and southeast Asia for elephant riders—the lumbering creature was a member of a conservation response unit, or CRU, that sought to protect the natural habitat.

Every day, Yongki and his human partners would patrol the dense jungles of southern Sumatra. With a mahout on his back, he would trudge along paths too treacherous for any mechanized vehicle, on the lookout for ivory poachers, illegal loggers or farmers encroaching on protected parkland.

Yongki also had another duty: liaising between species.

Sumatran park rangers use tame elephants like Yongki to drive wild elephants back into the jungle, avoiding clashes between elephants and farmers who have been known to take revenge upon the animals.

Yongki's grisly murder highlights the gruesome nature of the (often illegal) ivory trade, in which mostly elephants are targeted for their tucks by poachers. About 100 elephants are killed each day in the trade, and the act could push some species to the brink of extinction in a handful of years.

There are currently 2,400-2,800 Sumatran elephants left on the planet. According to the World Wildlife Fund, these animals went from “endangered” to “critically endangered” in 2012 after half of its population was lost in a single generation mostly due habitat loss and human-elephant conflict.

Word is getting out after photos and news of Yongki's murder surfaced online. There is currently an online petition urging Indonesia's Attorney-General H.M. Prasetyo to take action and prosecute the culprits responsible for the elephant's killing. The hashtag #RIPYongki is also trending on social media worldwide.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."