Poisoning of elephants nothing new
Published on: Saturday, March 02, 2013
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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THERE is actually nothing new about 14 elephants being poisoned to death, elephant experts say. It's only the shock find of 14 deaths in one single kill in one single site that stirred up a hue an cry, when the Department of Wildlife decided to take the matter to the press, for a change!

"Every year, at least 8 to 15 elephants are found either poisoned or shot dead across Sabah's elephant home ranges, particularly in Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu and Tawau districts, where forest fragmentation is high, where human activities such as large scale commercial agriculture and plantation activities are high," Raymond claimed.

"Yet, this figure includes only the cases that are reported to the Sabah Wildlife Department, as we believe that there are a lot more cases that went undetected and had not been reported to the Department," Raymond said.

But is it true?

A check with Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu, Director of Wildlife Department, confirmed the fact.

Poisoning elephants and shooting elephants to death is a routine, regular and ongoing process, Raymond asserted.

"Over the last two years, several elephants were found dead, most of them located either inside the plantations or along the boundaries of plantations," he pointed.

"But because they involved single deaths in diverse places, they were not reported in newspapers and so the public were not aware of the killings," Raymond told Daily Express.

Poisoned with organophosphate or shot dead

To prove his case, Raymond gave Daily Express five different pictures he had taken.

One picture shows a "poisoned" dead crouching over a river bank under an electric fence, bleeding from the mouth, in Taliwas January 2010.

Another photo shows a male elephant shot dead and tusks removed , in Ulu Segama, Malua, date unknown.

A third picture captures a massive individual lying dead in a river in the Sapulut Forest reserve, after being poisoned with organophosphate.

Incidentally, organophosphate was developed by the Nazis during World War 2 as a nerve gas agent, and it is acutely toxic.

Its use as a systemic pesticide has been blamed as the culprit behind the demise of primary pollinators honey bees across America.

A fourth picture Raymond shared with us shows a crumpled male elephant shot dead and tusk sawn off , lying inside an oil palm plantation , in Tunku, near Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Dent Peninsula !

The fifth picture shows a bloated, decomposing male poisoned to death, once again with organophosphate, bleeding form the mouth.

Two big evils

What does this set of pictures tell us?

Two big evils.

One, there are elephant hunters who shoot them dead deliberately to make money from the tusks, apparently.

Two, it is clear that Sabah's massive, poisoned driven 1.4m hectares commercial plantations are becoming the graveyards for the State's wildlife.

We all have a natural talent for what we see.

So, oil palm planters and tycoons, Chief Minister, all Ministers in the State Cabinet and Federal Government, take a really good look at the killer consequences on the rich cargo of life in our wilderness from a big scale toxic conventional agriculture copied from the West and see if they think this is the way of death to lead Sabah towards the future, or demonstrate a decisive and incisive leadership to break Sabah from the curse of toxic agriculture.

Unbelievable - using poison to grow food

It is actually unbelievable that man has resorted to the use of poison in large scale conventional commercial agriculture to grow food .

So the health of our wildlife, including the most charismatic, are going, going gone!

Isn't that obvious already?

Toxic agriculture is unsustainable.

It is killing our wildlife, rivers, water quality, fish, landscape quality, left right and centre!

Equally amazing: Using debt to solve debt

Just as it is unbelievable that all the great nations of the world in America, Europe and Japan, desperate for economic growth are using debts to solve debts when this is clearly escalating their debt crisis which are making their economies unsustainable.

The US national debt for instance now stands at US$16 trillion.

Where and how they are gong to find the economic growth to pay off this mountain of debt no one seems to know.

One thing Obama did last year was to persuade Congress to raise the to debt ceiling so he could borrow more to pay salaries to escape default but this only make America sink deeper into debt.

Financial bankruptcy and eco-bankruptcy is staring at perplexed world.

So this whole industrial civilisation is becoming unsustainable and doomed because of these crazy approaches to spur development, production and progress and Sabah is being dragged into this quadmire!

Lesson from fisco: Look to redeeming qualities

This elephant fiasco is calling Sabah to change, to steer away from toxic agriculture as much as quickly and as possible.

And there are redeeming qualities.

There is a pocket of highly motivated oil palm growers for instance who have either reduced or dropped poisons altogether in favor of a microbial approach which cut not only a big chunk of cost but reaped increased yields, hence higher profit and return of water quality, fish, wildlife at the same time.

This writer had seen their plantations in Tawau, because Nestle International - the biggest food manufacturer in the world which has seen this sustainable approach to food production at work, brought me there to see it .

And Nestle is in the final stage of preparation to push their oil palm small holders engagement programme to rally planters to change over to a poison-free way of oil palm farming.

So this writer knows there is hope for a decisive change.

But the State must include and give all these redeeming qualities a paramount voice, if it is really serious in looking into and reviewing its environmental policy that is good for the next thousand years and beyond.

Plantations turned wildlife graveyards?

At the moment, plantations can easily become the graveyard of elephants which wander off track, because of the pervasive presence of a cocktail of poisons - pesticides, rodenticides, disinfectants, cleansing agents, paints, antifreeze, plant toxins, mycotoxins, medications and animal venom.

The sources of Arsenic can be contaminated forage, pesticides and herbicides and the clinical signs of Arsenic poisoning include colic, weakness, trembling, diarrhea, dehydration and depression.

Contaminated forage can also be a source of Lead poisoning with clinical signs that include blindness.

This is interesting because Raymond said half the elephants he sees in Lower Kinabatangan, including herds in Gomantong plantations , are half blind with 'white' eye !

Dr Laurentius had conceded blindness is "creeping in" citing exposure to pesticides.

Similarly, peleted feed containing 9.29 per cent NaCl due to a manufacturing error can also be the source of Sodium chloride that can lead to not only blindness but also convulsion and partial analysis.

This is interesting because Raymond said half the elephants he sees in Lower Kinabatangan, including herds in Komantong plantations , are half blind with 'white' eye !

Dr Laurentius had conceded blindness is "creeping in" citing exposure to pesticides.

Similarly, peleted feed containing 9.29 per cent NaCl due to a manufacturing error can also be the source of Sodium chloride that can lead to not only blindness but also convulsion and partial analysis.

To protect their fresh fruits, almost every oil palm grower uses Rodenticide which is a source of sodium fluoroacetate which can cause sudden death in elephants.

This means so long as forest conversion of key elephant habitats and corridors continue, more and more elephants will exposed to agro poisons and more elephants poisoned to death, if not shot dead.

It is clear that besides the gene flow, free flow of agro poisons in the plantations and elephant food forage is an important policy parameter for the future survival of the Bornean elephant.

75 per cent of elephants outside protected areas

"Their future still remains a question mark because 75 per cent of the 2,040 elephants in Sabah lie totally outside the protected forest area," Raymond noted.

"Increasingly, elephants have to share land use with human planters, local communities and rural people, creating negative relationship because of damage to crops and properties and people kill them in retaliation or in some rare instance, elephants kill people in a moment of heat," Raymond said.

So the big question can the Bornean elephant survive the marching human land grab?

Raymond thinks Sabah needs no less than robust strategic ecological planning, land use planning, economic planning and human demographic planning to give elephants enough benefits of their laissez faire habitats.

Conserving the elephant: Follow the water

From his 11 years of tracking Sabah's elephants in all its five home ranges, Raymond agrees with the strategy that Nasa space scientists use in their probe for life on Mars - Follow the Water

"The movement of our elephants is governed by the availability of rivers and water resources," Raymond argued.

"This is the key food source for elephants. They prefer forests close to rivers and they prefer riparian forests. The elephant needs water every day," he pointed out.

The Bornean elephant follows Sabah's waterways.

Which is a stark reminder that if Sabah were serious in getting its battered wildlife and ecosystems back to functional health to last 1,000 years and beyond, it has no choice but to embark on an 'integrated river basin management' approach.

Integrated river basin management the only permanent answer ?

The Environment Protection Department (EPD) under Datuk Masidi's Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Environment spent RM4m to do a two year 'Impact Study of the Oil Palm Plantations, Oil Mills and Other Pollutants on the quality of Selected Rivers in Sabah' (2009-2011) recommended that the State invest in an 'Integrated River Basin Management' authority, identify all the sensitive, high biodiversity, high conservation value area , protect them from conversion and restore all riparian reserves of rivers big and small on a long term basis.

Dr Faizal Parish, a key member of the Study team, is an expert on integrated river basin management.

He had said unless Sabah takes a holistic approach to take care of every aspect of its environmental conservation and restoration to protect what's still there and put back what's lost, protection of the ecosystems will not work.

Danida trained Sabah on 'Strategic Environmental Planning' 10 years ago

Way back in 2002 and 2003, The Danish International Development Agency (Danida) did a pilot project with the Town and Regional Planning Department of Strategic Environmental Planning on how to identify sensitive areas , set them aside for conservation and put development to less sensitive areas of the landscape.

The Danida pilot project Chief Technical Advisor, Ian Hamilton, actually said by avoiding conversion of sensitive areas and siting projects in non-sensitive areas, Strategic Environmental Planning can spare Sabah even the need to do bothersome EIA.

So, Sabah knows and there are people who know what strategic environment planning is, it has a standing study on integrated river basin management which would do the elephant and all other species a great service, and there is actually no need to reinvent the wheel.

If there is indeed a State move to work out an environmental policy, these people who had done the big thinking beyond the species approach should be out in the picture.

The problem: Every good advice falls on deaf ears

The future generations need all the river basins there is in tip top health to deliver the needed ecosystem products and services.

All the State Government and conservationists need do is to go back and look at those studies and use them as the framework for action.

But how come some of the key State government agencies still keep converting key elephant habitats and corridors for oil palm and rubber?

Like Daily Express columnist John Lo has complained, all the calls to abolish the monopolistic cabotage policy just fell on deaf ears!


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