KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) yesterday confirmed that the death of the 14 Bornean pygmy elephants in Gunung Rara earlier this year was due to toxic poisoning.
However, SWD director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu told reporters present during the press conference at his office that it was still yet unknown what type of toxin was responsible for the deaths.
“It is not known what type of toxin was responsible for the lesions, if it was administered deliberately or accidentally consumed by the elephants,” he said.
He added that the extensive testing carried out both in Malaysia and in Thailand had also failed to provide confirmation on the type of toxins that killed the elephants, due in part to high rate of decomposition of the dead elephants.
Dr Laurentius said the samples were sent to various institutions in Malaysia and to Mahidol University and Ramathibodi Poisons Centre and the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Science in Thailand. Samples were also dispatched to the Queensland Biosecurity Sciences Laboratory in Australia.
“We are still waiting for the outcome from tests carried out in Australia. We’re expecting it to be out by the end of this month,” he said.
Dr Laurentius explained that there was a delay of one month in the sending of the samples to Australia due to the country’s strict rule on the matter.
Close to RM500,000 has been spent by SWD and other relevant bodies on the matter.
On allegations that the department was ‘hiding’ the matter from the public, hence its silence, Dr Laurentius stressed: “We are not hiding the matter, but we cannot simply say anything because we need admissible evidence. We cannot speculate on the matter.”
And, without concrete evidence, the department is not able to prosecute anyone, he said.
There are presently about 1,100 elephants within the Gunung Rara forest reserves.
Meanwhile, there were no takers for the RM120,000 reward offered for information leading to the prosecution of those responsible for the death of the pygmy elephants.
Dr Laurentius said several individuals had actually turned up, claiming to have information.
“However, as soon as they were told that they have to meet with the investigating officer, they disappeared. Some didn’t want their statement taken. There were no genuine cases,’ he said.
“We will only give the reward upon the successful prosecution of the perpetrator,” he said.