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Jibius, Sabah’s own elephant ‘whisperer’
Published on: Thursday, November 07, 2019

KOTA KINABALU: Nothing, not even bad weather, will keep elephant ‘whisperer’ Jibius Dausip away from his beloved jumbos. More so, when they are injured or lost and are gravely in need of his expert help.

The sky was overcast and it was drizzling one evening recently when he arrived at an oil palm plantation near Sukau, Kinabatangan, where workers had sighted a wild elephant. To get there, Jibius had travelled more than two hours from the elephant training and treatment centre in Sepilok, Sandakan, a temporary holding for rescued elephants, where he was based.

Donning a pair of rubber gloves, Jibius calmly approached his “patient”, a male Borneo pygmy elephant that weighed an estimated 400 kilogrammes and was about five years old.

The jumbo was in a seated position, seemingly due to an injury on its right foreleg. Jibius came close to the mammal and gently stroked its head, as if seeking its permission to examine its injured limb. 

The poor animal was obviously in pain but it seemed to trust its saviour and allowed him to do the needful.

Jibius, who is Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) assistant manager, is regarded as an elephant “guru” by his colleagues and wildlife non-governmental organisations in Sabah.

He is a specialist in handling pygmy elephants, having worked with this unique but increasingly endangered species — that is native to Borneo — for almost 30 years.  

As for the elephant that was found injured in the oil palm estate, Jibius and team successfully shifted it to the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary (BES) in Kampung Sentosa Jaya, Kinabatangan, located about 345 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu.

At the sanctuary, an X-ray was taken to determine the actual cause of its injury.

 “We will know if its bone is broken or cracked after the X-ray is examined,” Jibius, 55, told this reporter who was invited to participate in this particular elephant’s rescue mission. 

Other members of the mission included two WRU rangers Leonorius Lojivis and Clement Madius; Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) driver Donynisius Thomas; Sudirman Sawang from Seratu Aatai, an NGO; Azman Abdullah from NGO Hutan; and several workers from the oil palm estate.

Jibius said the estate management would always inform the authorities whenever they detect wild elephants in the plantation and would extend their full cooperation to the rescue team.

Jibius, who is also BES enforcement officer, said wild pygmy elephants rescued from all over Sabah are housed in the sanctuary, which was developed by SWD to address issues plaguing the conservation of the Sabah Borneo (also known as pygmy) elephant, a subspecies of the Asian elephant.

Currently, BES is taking care of three rescued pygmies, a female named Limbah aged about 40, a male named Gambaron aged 25 and a one-year-old female baby Nita.

Six orphaned male pygmy elephants, their ages ranging from six years to one year, are currently undergoing treatment at the temporary holding centre in Sepilok. Once they have recovered, the pachyderms will be translocated to BES.

All six have been given names by their carers — Dumpas, Danum, Adun, Tunku, Budak and Bani, with some of them named after the area where they were originally found. They were rescued in 2015, 2016 and 2017.  

At the Sepilok holding centre, Jibius and his WRU team are at hand to look after their wards’ well-being, as well as feed and train them. The animals have two training sessions, from 9.30am to 11.30am and 2pm to 4pm, during which they are also free to frolic on the premises.

Visitors, however, are not allowed at this centre due to health and safety reasons, he added.

There is a special technique to tame wild pygmy elephants and forge a close bond with them, attests the elephant whisperer himself.

 “To get closer to them, one must spend as much time as possible with the elephants as that’s how we humans can gain their trust and confidence,” explained Jibius, who also serves as a wildlife assistant at SWD.

He was among the first few people to be appointed to SWD’s elephant unit when it was established in 1991. He currently heads the unit.

Jibius said he promptly took up the offer to join the elephant unit as back then the department did not have enough staff who were trained to rescue and handle elephants and, furthermore, many of the elephants placed at the temporary holding centre in Sepilok had died that year (1991) due to insufficient care.

 “The situation saddened me and I realised that if no one knew how to handle elephants, then how could the rescued ones possibly survive,” he said, adding that he personally felt that the pygmy elephants were a very special breed of animals.

 “Once we get used to the elephant, we will become familiar with its behaviour and this is how we develop our love and affection for the animal.”

Throughout his career, he had his share of happy and sad moments. One distressing incident he remembers only too well involved a wild elephant Jibius and his team had rescued but, unfortunately, the poor jumbo was so badly hurt that it eventually succumbed to its injuries.

 “We tried our level best to save it but failed. It’s terribly heartbreaking to lose an elephant especially after having rescued it and taken care of it for months in the hope that it will survive,” he said.

Saving elephants may not seem like a glamorous job but in truth, it is a highly noble vocation. Ensuring the survival of an elephant species found nowhere else outside the island of Borneo requires an unstinted commitment that only people like Jibius are capable of.  

Born and raised in Tambunan, Jibius, who is from the Dusun indigenous group, has accumulated valuable experience which he is now sharing with the new WRU recruits.

 “I’m sharing my know-how with them in the hope that when I retire (in four years’ time) there will be people who can take over my place and continue caring for the pygmy elephants,” he said.

He said he is not in search of praise or appreciation for his efforts, instead, all he wants is to see the continued conservation of the pygmy elephant habitats’ ecosystem.

 “I regard these animals as part of my own family. They are Sabah’s treasures and ought to be protected and conserved.” – Bernama



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