Sabah’s jumbo-sized problem in translocating elephant herds (Malaysia)


Olivia Miwil, New Straits Times

Date Published

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KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department has been working closely with large plantation companies in handling human-elephant conflicts especially, in the east coast of the state.

Department director Augustine Tuuga said, unlike in Peninsular Malaysia where a herd of elephants were moved by trained elephants, the Sabah Wildlife Rescue unit had to use heavy machinery for translocation purposes.

“Those trained elephants are bought from Thailand and India, which require special care that involve higher costs.

“Besides that, (trainers) have to learn foreign languages to give commands to the elephants,” he told the New Straits Times.

Augustine said, however, the translocation method in Sabah involved an estimated cost of RM 30,000 per animal.

The cost includes the heavy machinery, allowances for rescue personnel, as well as food for the herd, which can have about 20 or more elephants.

The translocation was made necessary when the “no killing” policy came into effect in 1996. Previously, the authorities had used “elephant bombs” to contain the species.

During the recent Sabah Elephant Film Festival 2017, which was held in conjunction with World Elephant Day, Augustine had said human and elephants here used to live together before the 1960s.

“The villagers in the east coast of Malaysia used to call the elephants as ‘nenek’ (granny) as a gesture of respect for the species.

“When forests were slowly converted into plantations, authorities began to receive reports of damages caused by elephants,” said the director, who had been dealing with wildlife for three decades.

He said at worst, about 100 elephants would gather at one location in one night and cause damages to several acres of plantations.

There had been reports that bees buzzing sounds or light bulbs may be able to ward elephants from getting near to plantations.

Augustine, however, said none of the methods had proven effective to date, as compared to electrical fencing, was can be afforded by big plantation companies and not smallholders.

Meanwhile, Wildlife Rescue Unit veterinarian Dr Laura Benedict said the team had encountered many incidents of elephant herds came too close to places with human population.

“There were incidents of elephants going under stilt houses, which required prompt response to translocate the animals.

“In cases where elephants had died, 32 per cent were poisoned and 16 per cent were suspected being poisoned,” she said, citing among others, the notorious incident where 14 pygmy elephants were killed in the Gunung Rara forest in 2013.

Based on a study by the Sabah Wildlife Department and World Wide Fund for Nature, there were 2,050 Borneo Pygmy elephants about 10 years ago.

There were also reports that elephants were being poached for their tusks, some of which are used as wedding dowry in Indonesia.

However, the recent killing of a female pygmy elephant with multiple gunshots in Kinabatangan remains a mystery as the animal has no tusk.