Why kill the elephant? (Malaysia)



Date Published

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The bull elephant in Tawau, Sabah, that killed a man should not have been put down by the Sabah Wildlife Department, said Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma, executive director/CEO of WWF-Malaysia in a press statement.

When confronting elephants, there should be restraint rather than revenge, as killing elephants merely addresses the symptom of a problem, which is Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) caused by expansion of plantations in Sabah, he explained.

When the news of the culling was posted in the Facebook page of The Star Online, there were also many protests by netizens.

San Shepherd Sam asked, “An eye for an eye? But why? To teach the other elephants a lesson?”

Another reader, Jipp Gonolon Agustine, said, “I’m sorry for the loss of (human) life, but we are the ones who have trespassed and destroyed their habitat. The elephant might have felt threatened seeing a bunch of humans near his herd…We cannot blame them for protecting themselves since we cannot even protect them despite their status as protected animals.”

Dionysius of WWF explained, “Borneo elephants are mostly found in Sabah and its population has dwindled over the years due to habitat loss and HEC, therefore the death of one member is a huge blow to the whole population.”

He added that the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) has confirmed that the culled bull was in musth, a period where male elephants are known to exhibit aggressive behaviour, and consequently are susceptible to provocation. Therefore those working or living in areas inhabited by elephants need to remain alert of their surroundings, particularly during dawn and after 3pm when elephants are known to be more active.

“It is unfortunate that both human and elephant lives were lost in the recent conflict, which highlights the sense of urgency for HEC to be mitigated strategically,” clarified Dionysius, who added that WWF-Malaysia is currently working on joint mitigation options to reduce HEC with state agencies such as Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Forestry Department, and plantation companies via the Kalabakan HEC working group in Tawau.

The problem is complex and there is no “one-size-fits-all solution” for HEC. However, some of the science-based solutions that WWF-Malaysia have been recommending include “wildlife or green corridors” that link fragmented patches of forest. Another option is the strategic placement of electric fences.

Dionysius said that one of the Sabah state government’s latest commitments to conservation is its intention to create a wildlife corridor for Borneo elephants in what is called “the Heart of Borneo” in the core of the state.

“Culling a threatened species when other options are available is a step backwards in the state’s journey to sustainability,” he said. “It is hoped that the recent culling will not be a precedent for HEC cases in the future.”

Reader Claribelle C Gom commented on the Facebook page, “Animals can’t tell what is right or wrong. They act on instinct. It does not deserve to be killed unless it really has a bloodlust for humans which they won’t have unless provoked. Therefore, the elephant should (have been) sent to a nature reserve instead of killing it.”