Villagers near elephant habitats seek win-win solution
Published on: Friday, November 08, 2019
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KOTA KINABALU: The villagers of Kampung Sukau and Kampung Menanggol in Kinabatangan, located about 380 kilometres from here, are almost at their wits end trying to stop wild elephants from encroaching on their farms and oil palm smallholdings and destroying their crops.

But keeping these jumbos away is no mean task and often the villagers have to dice with danger should they have the misfortune of coming face to face with one of these mighty creatures.

Sabah is well-known for its Borneo pygmy elephant population and the siting of human settlements close to their habitats is always an open invitation for human-elephant conflicts. And, Kampung Sukau and the nearby Kampung Menanggol are no different. Inhabited by more than 2,200 people who are mostly farmers and smallholders, the two villages face elephant intrusions practically every week.  

Their crops get eaten up by the elephants which by the time they are done with the foraging leave a trail of destruction behind them.

Kampung Menanggol Sukau headman Ibnoh Kiju said the villagers have no objections to the presence of the wild elephants in the vicinity of their homes but wish that the authorities could come up with a workable solution to enable them to coexist harmoniously with the mammals, as well as with other wildlife that inhabits the lush forests close by.

 “The losses we incur are our main concern,” he said, adding that the villagers spend thousands of ringgit to plant their crops and manage their farms and smallholdings.

 “Our investments and hard work are gone in the wink of an eye when the elephants come.”

He said the villagers tried erecting a fence around their farms to keep the animals away but to no avail as the fence gets destroyed within minutes of an intrusion.

 “It costs about RM4,000 to build a fence and each oil palm seedling costs about RM16. Can you imagine the losses when the elephants eat up the fruits of the trees planted on a three- to five-acre (1.2ha to 2.02ha) smallholding?

 “The losses incurred are huge as the villagers here mainly carry out agricultural activities. They have run out of capital as they have no produce to sell,” he lamented.

He, however, acknowledged that the presence of wild elephants in the area has attracted domestic and foreign tourists to their village, which has given the locals an opportunity to generate an income from tourism-related activities.

He also urged the tourism operators to lend a helping hand to the villagers by helping them to erect sturdier fencing to prevent the wild jumbos from encroaching on their land.

Ibnoh, meanwhile, is optimistic that the villages located in that area would eventually become good models of how humans and wildlife can co-exist harmoniously.

For this to happen, he said, all the parties concerned must cooperate closely in their quest to seek an end to the conflict between man and elephant and work towards creating a win-win situation.  

 “We villagers always get to see the elephants and we actually like them. Our children get so excited when they spot the animal. We don’t regard the elephant as our enemy. We don’t disturb them and don’t kill them either.

 “But the government authorities and tourism operators here must take the initiative to help the farmers and smallholders who live here. We want to continue with our agricultural activities and we also want the elephant habitats to be protected,” he added.

With wild elephants turning up as uninvited guests ever so frequently, the villagers are bound to have had close encounters with these beasts. One of them Shafie Abdul Karim, 33, who lives in Kampung Sukau and works as a security guard at a primary school, once had a narrow escape and he thought he would not live to tell his tale.

It happened sometime early last year at about 8.30 pm. He had actually gone out to inspect his father’s oil palm smallholding as his neighbour had earlier informed him of the presence of an elephant in the area.

 “When I got to my father’s smallholding, I caught a whiff of the elephant’s scent and saw fresh footprints as well. I had my torchlight with me and suddenly I caught sight of an elephant moving about in search of food.

 “At first, it didn’t know I was there but when I shouted and clapped my hands in a bid to chase it away, it saw me and charged at me!” he recalled.

Imagine an angry nine-foot (2.74 metres) tall bull pygmy elephant going on a rampage. 

Shafie, of course, panicked and looked for a place to hide but he tripped over something in the dark and fell into a small drain.

 “I thought it was going to be the last day of my life… because when I switched on my torchlight I saw the elephant standing there with one of its legs raised. It was getting ready to trample on me!”

Using all his strength, Shafie heaved himself out of the drain and sped back to his house located a short distance away. He was so traumatised by the incident that he stayed away from the smallholding for several days.

These days whenever he ventures into the smallholding, he would “rush back home the instant I smell the scent of the animal”. – Bernama


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