Tuesday, June 15

Govt serious in tackling elephant deaths


KOTA KINABALU: The State Government is serious about tackling the issue of intermittent elephant deaths to protect the elephant population and prevent their extinction.

This is in view of the fact that a total of 116 elephant deaths were recorded between October 2010 and September this year.

Of the figure, 30 elephants have died this year alone. The latest, a female aged between 12 and 15 years, died at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve (Tawau) on October 18.

According to Dr Roza, a veterinarian with the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) who conducted the post-mortem, the elephant died due to a fight with other elephants.

In this regard, a joint meeting was convened between the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, and Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry last week.

Ministers Datuk Christina Liew and Datuk Junz Wong concurred that given the loss of habitat, the 2,000-odd elephants need a “home” so that they will not encroach into oil palm plantations and risk getting snared or shot to death.

Currently, they are concentrated in three areas – Lower Kinabatangan Managed Elephant Range (MER), Tabin MER and Central Sabah MER in the Danum area. The forests in these elephant habitat are a mix of primary and secondary forests. Elephants eat grasses, roots, fruit and bark. They use their tusks to pull the bark from trees and dig roots out of the ground. An adult elephant can eat 300 pounds (136kg) of food in a day, and drink up to 150-200 litres of water per day.

“Bornean pygmy elephants are a ‘prestige’ breed as they are peculiar to Borneo. We are intensifying our efforts to protect the elephants and prevent their extinction. We have discussed the pressing need to
grow sufficient food for the elephants in their habitat. For a start, we will consider planting vegetation (grasses and shrubs) in the three areas individually before connecting the areas at a later stage of development.

“The aim is to create a sustainable food chain within the three Managed Elephant Ranges, a new corridor of life for the elephants. Such move will avert crop damage in the oil palm plantations and smallholdings.

“In the meantime, we need the cooperation of plantation owners and workers in not causing any harm to the animals but to inform the
relevant authorities (Sabah Wildlife Department) in the event of any
encroachment,” the ministers said in a joint ministerial statement.

Expressing the government’s determination to resolve the human-elephant conflict, Liew, who is also a Deputy Chief Minister,
and Wong stressed that political will is indispensable in this respect.

“A special task force will be set up, comprising officials from the ministries and relevant agencies,” they said.

The SWD has been entrusted with the task of preparing a paper on the proposed Resolution of the Human-Elephant Conflict in Sabah for submission to the State Cabinet. Assistant Director (Bornean Elephants Conservation Unit) Dr Sen Nathan has been asked to prepare the paper.

The Deputy Chief Minister said the joint meeting was in response to the call by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal to the two ministries to collectively address the outstanding problem. It was also attended by Permanent Secretaries Datuk Datu Rosmadi Datu Sulai (Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment) and Dr Mariana Tinggal (Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry), Director of Agriculture, Datuk Idrus Shapie, and Director of Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), Augustine Tuuga, among other senior officials.

It was unanimously agreed that the Sabah Forestry Department be enlisted in the Elephant Protection Cause. Its director will be
invited to attend the next meeting.

Breakdown of the total number of elephant deaths is as follows: 2010
(2), 2011 (6), 2012 (5), 2013 (23), 2014 (6), 2015 (15), 2016 (20),
2017 (9) and 2018 (30).

Number of elephant deaths by district is as follows: Died in captivity (2), Keningau (1), Tawau/Kalabakan (35), Lahad Datu (30),
Kinabatangan (31) and Sandakan/Telupid (17).

Answering Liew’s persistent question on the cause of death of the two elephants in captivity at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park (LWP), Dr Sen said Yapid, a young male adult aged 12 years, seemed to have a problem of congenital disease, resulting in low absorption from the total nutriments consumed on its diet.

“Honestly speaking, Yapid was an elephant that would have needed special dietary and husbandry care.

Which means its care and dietary management should have been given higher priority and care. It is very evident that the general husbandry and veterinary care in LWP has deteriorated to a point where Yapid was not getting this special care. As a result, Yapid would have suffered from chronic malnutrition/starvation and thus eventually death,” he explained.

As for the baby elephant, a two-year-old male, Dr Sen said it died of chronic emaciation (unnatural thinness from loss of flesh due to lack of food).

“Rest assured, changes have been made at the LWP,” he added.

The meeting also discussed the possibility of getting agencies under the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry to “adopt” one or two elephants in the interest of their well-being.

Liew suggested that the previous plan of “loaning” an elephant to the Rasa Ria Reserve in Tuaran, be re-visited if possible.

At this juncture, Rosmadi conceded that with the presence of 15 elephants, there is congestion at the LWP.

“Ideally, by international convention, the zoo should have only four to five elephants. So the rest should be in the wild but then there is not enough food,” he said while emphasising the need to relocate 10 elephants to other areas.

Meanwhile, the minister questioned Tuuga over the five-month delay in the completion of renovation works at the LWP. It was supposed to have been completed by the end of September.

Rosmadi said the works will be completed by the end of October.

Before the meeting came to a close, a concerned Idrus brought the
issue of smuggling of plants to the minister’s attention.