KOTA KINABALU: The State Government has invoked Section 33 of the State Wildlife Enactment which requires land owners to explain to the State wildlife director when an elephant is found dead on their property.
Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew said a RM120,000 government reward for whistleblowers or eyewitnesses had not been able to stop the death and killing of elephants.
Due to the killing of a Borneo Pygmy Elephant mother which died of a head shot, and its baby, body missing and only innards were left at the scene, Liew added the ministry had no choice but to invoke the enactment.
“We will ask them to come and explain to the director, why is the elephant killed on your land? We want him to explain and this we have to turn to this last resort already. The senseless killings have been going on quite rampantly and we feel very sorry these elephants were killed unnecessarily.
“We do not know what is the motive but whatever it is, it has to be stopped. That is why we are invoking the act and this will take immediate effect from today,” she added after launching her ministry’s 50th anniversary celebration here.
Liew assured the state government would not go soft on owners of lands, whether located in the forest reserve or Yayasan Sabah concession areas, amongst others.
“Everybody. (It) applies across the board. Some people think that because the elephant was killed in the forest reserve or in the government’s land then we will be lenient. No, no more.
“We have been advising them. This human-elephant conflict has been going on long enough. We’ve done everything that we could. I found it getting bad now,” she explained, reiterating that the law would be enforced on all types of land owners, including smallholders and plantation owners.
Liew added in the future, a Special Animal Unit that would be handled by an American elephant expert.
On Wednesday, Sabah Wildlife director Augustine Tuuga revealed that 25 Borneo pygmy elephants were found dead this year, either shot or snared in traps in jungles and plantations in the state.
“This is the highest recorded so far,” Augustine said, referring to annual fatalities. Over 100 elephants have died in the last eight years in Sabah.
Conservation group WWF estimates that only around 1,500 elephants are left.
Baby-faced with oversized ears and long tails that drag on the ground, pygmy elephants are found on Borneo island which is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
Loss of habitat is the biggest threat for the pygmy elephants, with deforestation, logging and rapid expansion of palm oil plantations contributing to the decline in their population. The elephants also fall prey to poachers or traps set up to catch animals.
Authorities have been unable to determine the exact reasons for the higher number of deaths this year, but Augustine said they have noticed elephants spending more time outside of forests and in plantations.
The rich rainforests of Borneo are surrounded by vast palm oil plantations. Palm oil companies in Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s top two producers of the vegetable oil, have been accused of doing little to protect wildlife and their habitat.
The latest reported death in Sabah was on Saturday, when wildlife officers found the slightly decomposed carcass of a female elephant in a plantation, with what they believe was a gunshot wound at its temple.
There have been at least two other deaths by shooting and many others caused by injuries from traps.
Bringing the killers to justice has proven to be difficult, due to the remoteness of the locations and the sheer lack of information and witnesses, Augustine said.
No witnesses have come forward despite a reward offer of RM120,000, he said.
WWF Malaysia called on palm oil companies to take more action.
Four male elephants died from snare injuries in the past two months and all of them were found in plantations bordering forest reserves, WWF said in a statement this week.
“Even more worrisome than the number of elephant deaths are the number of elephants that have died due to strategically placed snare traps within their habitat,” the conservation group said.