From human-elephant conflict to coexistence
Published on: Friday, December 06, 2019
By: Larry Ralon
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Liew (driver seat), Menon, Assafal (second left) and Baya (left) at the event.
Kota Kinabalu: Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal is pleased with the strong response and commitment from the Malaysian palm oil industry to work the State Government in finding long-term solutions for saving the Bornean elephants in Sabah. 

“Saving our elephants is an emergency. I have made the call for all stakeholders, including industries, to join Sabah in this urgent matter. I am pleased to have received strong response and commitment from the Malaysian palm oil industry to work with the State Government in finding long-term solutions. 

“It is my hope that we, together as government, industry, conservationists and civil society, will have found the direction we all seek, to save the Bornean elephants in Sabah.

“It is not too late to save the Bornean elephants. We must not hesitate to take drastic action and initiate conservation programmes that will create an ultimate goal of having a sustainable landscape to support free-ranging breeding populations of elephants in Sabah,” he said when opening the (International Union For Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) 10th Asian Elephant Specialist Group (AsESG) Meeting held at Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa, Thursday. His speech was read by Deputy Chief Minister-cum-Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew. 

He said he would not allow the elephants in Sabah that now number less than 2,000 to face the fate that befell the Sumatran rhino, whose last likely specimen died from natural causes last week.

Proud and honoured that Sabah has been chosen by IUCN AsESG as venue for the event, Mohd Shafie said among the states in Malaysia, Sabah has always been in the forefront of wildlife conservation. 

“Having said that though we are not perfect, we do have challenges. Recent years have seen a dramatic escalation in human-wildlife conflict, severely testing the critical balance on land use between wildlife habitats and human induced activities.  

“This is particularly apparent based on events that have occurred in the Bornean elephant population where 145 elephants were reported killed between 2010 and 2019. Most of these deaths occurred in palm oil plantation or forest reserves in close vicinity of plantations. Around half of these deaths were either caused by gunshot wounds or suspected poisoning while quite a number remain unsolved. 

“I sincerely believe that this meeting is the perfect venue to openly discuss and look for pragmatic solutions to address this escalating mortality in Sabah’s elephant population.  

“By sharing experiences, mistakes and best practices on elephant conservation and human-wildlife conflict management, I hope technical support and frank advice can be provided on long-term conservation of the Bornean elephant population in Sabah.” 

There are estimated only 1,500-2,000 Bornean elephants roaming the forests and cultivated areas in the east coast of Sabah. 

“The time has come for us to realise the fact that we must treat elephants with humility and respect. Through land sparing and land sharing we must start to co-exist with our Bornean elephants,” said Mohd Shafie. He said just two weeks ago Malaysia’s last known Sumatran rhino named Iman died, after the creature had been surviving millions of years in Sabah’s jungle. 

“The State Government did its best to treat Iman, as well as to harvest the egg cells of this last female rhino in the country. Unfortunately, Iman had cancer and she could not be saved...her death is saddening.

“We must now work towards changing the letter ‘C’ in HEC (Human-Elephant Conflict) from conflict to co-existence. We will not lose our Bornean elephants as we lost our Rhino, not on my watch,” he said. 

AsESG Chairman Vivek Menon saluted the Sabah Government fo the efforts being made to protect the Bornean elephants.

He said AsESG is happy to note that the Sabah elephant conservation action plan which is being drafted is almost ready to be tabled to the Sabah Cabinet. 

He said AsESG is well aware of the challenges faced in Sabah with regards to Bornean elephant conservation and would provide their assistance for addressing them. He said in his country India, the tiger is the national animal but elephant is the national heritage.  

The three-day meeting jointly organised by State Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry (chair), Sabah Wildlife Department (secretariat), WWF Malaysia, HUTAN, Danau Girang Field Center (DGFC) and Seratu Aatai, is attended by AsESG members, government officials from the 13 Asian elephant range countries, and presenters and observers from nine other 'non-elephant' countries.

It is meant to provide an opportunity for experts on Asian elephants to look at various aspects of wild and captive populations and provide technical support to governments and others on the long-term conservation of the species; to share best practises on elephant conservation and management of human wildlife conflicts in Asian elephant range countries; to present and discuss status reports from Asian elephant range countries; and to showcase Sabah's Asian Elephant Conservation Strategy to the world.

AsESG, a global network of specialists (both scientists and non-scientists) concerned with the study, monitoring, management, and conservation of Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus), is the lUCN Species Survival Commission's dedicated body for the study, monitoring, management and conservation of Asian elephants.

The overall aim of the AsESG is to promote the long-term conservation of Asia's elephants and, where possible, the recovery of their populations to viable levels. All its members are actively involved in some aspect of elephant conservation and/or management.

There are currently over 90 volunteer members, led by Menon, whose membership is reviewed and reappointed approximately every three-four years. 



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