KOTA KINABALU: The Wildlife Rescue Unit from the Sabah Wildlife Department rescued 10 elephants in Lahad Datu from January 18 to 25, this year.
The animals had ventured more than 45km from their original range, the Tabin managed elephant range, and were found only 10km from Lahad Datu town.
Senior officer of the Wildlife Rescue Unit, Jibius Dausip, said they received a call from a man from Sri Tungku Simpang Ladang Permai near Lahad Datu, complaining that elephants were roaming near his house.
“Our team was dispatched to the location and we found 10 individuals together, nine females of various ages and one young male of about four years old. It was most likely a family group that ventured far away from its range,” said Dausip.
Dr Diana Ramirez, wildlife veterinarian from Wildlife Rescue Unit and Danau Girang Field Centre, said in less than eight days, they darted and secured every individual of the family group.
“We then translocated all the females back to Tabin Wildlife Reserve after collaring the two biggest females with satellite units provided by Danau Girang Field Centre,” she said.
Ramirez added the young male suffered a severe injury to its trunk probably from a snare trap.
“Without captive intervention it would have minimum chances of survival in the wild, and we decided to transfer him to Low Kawi Wildlife Park,” she said.
Dr Senthilvel Nathan, senior wildlife officer and Wildlife Rescue Unit manager, pointed out it was impossible to translocate and release the whole group in one day for obvious logistics reasons.
“Bikang 1 was translocated on January 20 and Bikang 2 on January 23 and the other individuals around those dates. After one month, the two females have not met up yet. We are currently studying the possibility of releasing future translocated herds together to prevent the herd from separating.
“That might cost more and it would be logistically more challenging because we would need to set up a pre-release holding area and renting more transporting lorries. But our main concern is the elephants’ welfare and keep the group dynamic intact,” said Nathan.
Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens said extensive agriculture through plantations such as palm oil had considerably reduced the habitat of the elephant and other wildlife in Sabah, therefore increasing human-elephant conflicts.
He said the recent death of 14 elephants was most likely a result of human-elephant conflict in elephant ranges and there was an obvious need to better manage the landscape within and around the plantations, by providing routes for wildlife to move from one forest to another.
“After one month of satellite monitoring, we can confirm that the two females have been exploring the reserve and have not (yet) ventured in plantations around Tabin. If they ever return in the vicinity of Lahad Datu, we will be able to analyse their migratory pattern and advise the plantation owners on how to fence their land to avoid any more intrusion.
While establishing corridors within plantations and between forest reserves can be a solution to mitigate conflicts, he stressed that there is also an urgent need to stop any land conversion in elephant ranges as stated in the recently launched State’s Elephant Action Plan.
“All forest reserves in elephant ranges should be upgraded to Class One, providing a haven for elephants,” said Goossens.
He said elephant translocation is part of a long-term programme that Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre kick-started last year to tackle human-elephant conflicts in agricultural plantations such as palm oil.
Funding is currently provided by The Asian Elephant Foundation and Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.
Danau Girang Field Centre is located within the Kinabatangan. It is a collaborative project between the Sabah Wildlife Department and Cardiff University.