Monday, May 27

Living in harmony with elephants


Elephant herd feeding on oil palm felling in Telupid. -Photo courtesy of Forever Sabah/Enroe Soudi

KOTA KINABALU: Locals can now find ways to live in harmony with the elephants.

“We can now contribute geoinformatics data to inform wildlife mitigation projects,” said Romineshon Kumpil, an active member of the Community Elephant Ranger Team (CERT) based in Telupid.

With Sabah’s 26th elephant death recorded this year, passionate people are what the state needs most to explore and test community-based solutions for mitigating human-elephant conflicts.

Formed in March 2018, CERT deploys citizen science for the practical management and monitoring of elephant migrations between Telupid, Beluran and Tongod.

CERT comprises of trained volunteers from the villages the elephants visit, namely Kg Liningkung, Kg Bauto, Kg Gambaron and Kg Telupid.

Instead of defining the issue as conflict, CERT chose to name their project Human-Elephant Harmony (HEH) and CERT is known locally as ‘Kopisuladan di Yaki’ meaning friendship between villagers and elephants in Dusun Labuk dialect.

The HEH is a 22-month capacity building project funded by the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry through Forever Sabah under the National Conservation Trust Fund (NCTF) scheme.

The project is carried out in partnership with Dr Nurzhafarina Othman (Seratu Aatai Project), Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Project, Sabah Forestry Department and Sabah Wildlife Department.

The ultimate aim of HEH is to transform conflict into harmony, thus creating a sustainable model to support humans and elephants co-existent in the landscape.

The project stems from a nine-month consultation exercise facilitated by Forever Sabah from March to November 2016 with the Telupid District Office, government agencies and local communities in response to increasing numbers of disturbing incidents.

The locals shared that as far back as 1972, elephants were known to live on a flat area named Gana close to the Labuk River in Telupid.

Following a huge forest fire in 1985, the locals observed that the herds had moved out of Gana and were not seen in Telupid for many years.

In 2014, elephants reappeared in Kampung Bauto.

By 2016, the locals observed elephants on an average of every three weeks.

Locals believe there are now over 100 elephants visiting the Telupid area.

Most recently, a sub-adult elephant wandering into SMK Telupid’s canteen made headlines in March 2018.

Elephant herd movement data is still being collected and analysed to ascertain factors that influence herds’ distribution Telupid.

Big plantations can fence out the elephants, especially when the palms are young, but smallholders’ plots were often severely damaged.

Some villages and infrastructure lay in the elephants’ migration routes but the rural communities lacked the resources to solve these issues alone.

Likewise, complexity of the issue suggested it should best be addressed through a community-based platform.

The CERT team members are also concerned that the Pan-Borneo Highway routing in Telupid would further aggravate the problem.
Harrowing video footage on social media has already shown a young elephant separated from its herd while trying to cross the existing highway.

CERT has geoinformatics data to show that the proposed Pan-Borneo Highway routing overlaps with the natural trails that are heavily used by the herds.

Besides cutting off elephant migration routes, roads built in inappropriate area will cause vehicular accidents with elephants, especially during night time when visibility is low.

CERT is now attempting to map out the hierarchical social structure of each herd in Telupid.

The herds may interact, divide or reform over the course of weeks or months due to environmental pressures.

The study result is expected to advance the understanding of overall elephant distribution pattern in Sabah.

Currently, CERT is working with Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Wildlife Department and the Telupid district office for collecting field data to inform the design and routing of electric fences.

“Landscape changes create the type of ripple effects that passes a problem from one place to another”, said Claudia Lasimbang, the project facilitator of HEH.

“It is imperative that any new development, whether for infrastructure or industrial crop, should consider the inputs and engagement with the local indigenous community who understand local wildlife more than anyone else,” she added.