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KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department cannot confirm if the deaths of pygmy elephants in 2013 were related to helicopter logging activities carried out by a concessionaire of the Sabah Foundation, as suggested by an opposition party.
Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) vice-president Junz Wong had lodged a report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in Putrajaya yesterday morning concerning the award of a “lopsided” timber concession in the area four years ago.
In the report, Wong had questioned the fairness of the deal and raised issues concerning the degradation of catchment areas, soil erosion and wildlife that might have been adversely affected by the logging activities.
“I also note that the news of 16 dead pygmy elephants was reported in October 2013 while the contract was awarded in July 2013. Were all these coincidental?” Wong said to members of the media after lodging the report.
However, Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga told FMT yesterday that the connection between the elephant deaths and the logging activities had not yet been established.
“The pygmy elephant deaths occurred in the Gunung Rara forest reserve area, but we’re not sure whether the deaths were related to helicopter logging activities,” he said.
“The case was investigated by the wildlife department and police from Bukit Aman after we received information from the forestry department.
“The case is still open and unsolved. We offered RM120,000 reward money for those with information on the culprits who caused the deaths. This reward has yet to be claimed and the offer is still open.
“We’d like to ask those with information to come to the wildlife department and cooperate with us.”
According to a report by The Star in February 2013, 10 elephants were discovered dead on Dec 29, 2012. This was followed by the discovery of several other dead elephants, which brought the total number to 14.
The exact number of dead elephants has been questioned, though, with a source telling FMT in October 2013 that unreported deaths actually brought the total to 16.
Environmentalists who worked closely with the wildlife expressed disappointment over the way the state government was investigating the case.
“It’s all very secretive and they are keeping information from the public,” the anonymous source said.
The Star report said Borneo Conservation Trust (BCT) researchers had found chemicals near the dead elephants such as cyanide, usually traceable in certain pesticides, and sulphur, normally used by local hunters or Indonesian workers hunting wild boars.
“It could not be determined whether the poisoning had been deliberate,” the report said.
BCT conservation and research head Raymond Alfred was quoted as saying: “There is also no concrete evidence showing that the logging contractors were using high amounts of pesticides to kill the elephants.”