Sabah elephants ‘not dwindling species’
Published on: Saturday, December 14, 2019
By: Sherell Jeffrey
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KOTA KINABALU: Seven elephant deaths in the past four months is a concern but does not make the creature a dwindling species in Sabah. 

A Kinabatangan tourism lodge operator-cum-conservationist, Alex Yee, said it is not accurate to describe the species as “rapidly dwindling”. 

“It’s not accurate to conclude that the population is dwindling. When the death rate is higher than the birth rate, only then it’s dwindling,” he said.

He suggested that an elephant population census be done first when asked on what can be done to address the matter. 

The latest elephant death discovery came just over a week after Sabah hosted the 10th Asian Elephant Specialist Group meeting, and questions were raised as to whether the Bornean pygmy elephant is rapidly dwindling in the State. 

“With one done (population census), it will help form a base line for us to work from. With the many deaths these few months, we do not know if there are corresponding births of baby elephants.

“I operate a lodge along the Kinabatangan. I often see herds comprising baby elephants. It’s an awesome sight and it also shows a healthy family cluster. 

“I am not saying I accept the killings. I just feel it’s good to make an action plan once we have done a population census,” he said.

Yee, who is in the midst of forming an Elephant Conservation Trust, hopes to collaborate with the State Government. The Trust will only focus its efforts on Sabah. 

“Following many (elephant) deaths few years ago and early 2018 when a lone elephant went into a canteen in Telupid, it dawned on me that food might be scarce in the natural landscape. So I decided to gather several like-minded experts to formulate a plan, wanting to raise funds from overseas and use these funds by working together with State agencies towards managing of a large landscape that’s conducive for elephant ecology.”

“I won’t say I am frustrated with how it is being addressed as I await the State Elephant Action Plan to be announced,” he said.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the Sabah Wildlife Department has completed the final draft of the Elephant Management Action Plan 2020-2030 to better manage elephant conservation in the State. It is expected to be tabled in the Sabah Cabinet early next year.

Yee pointed out that seldom has he read of natural causes being behind the elephant deaths.

“Thus far the unnatural deaths have been due to poisoning or shooting. So naturally I would think that the common nature of deaths in Sabah are unnatural. Any one knows how many elephants die of old age or at birth or from sickness or starvation? Or even of sadness? Yes elephants are known to die when his or mate dies.

“Those who wander from their original site are poisoned. And those beside rivers or within elephant roaming distance of a plantation, many are in the east coast of Sabah.

Borneo pygmy elephant is a subspecies of the Asian elephant that inhabits north-eastern Borneo, Indonesia and Malaysia. Its exact origin remains the subject of debate.

The human-elephant conflict in Sabah has attracted the attention of non-governmental organisations, especially with its population estimated to be down to 2,000 in the State.

A very high number of them occurred in conflict areas with more than half either shot or due to suspected poisoning, while the rest appeared to be natural causes of death.

Elephant poaching has also been on the increase with quite a number of arrests made of smugglers trying to smuggle tusks across the Malaysia-Indonesia border.

Borneo’s pygmy elephants is a fully protected species as stated in Division 1, Schedule 11 of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

Along with sun bears, Bornean orang-utans and Sunda pangolins in Sabah has got them listed protected as a “Schedule 1: Totally Protected” species under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

The enactment forbids hunting, possession and trade of wildlife species under Schedule 1 and those found guilty of these activities could face up to RM250,000 fine and up to five years’ jail.

Malaysian police para-military unit, Tiger Platoon, have also been called in to assist the Wildlife Department to stop the senseless killing of the elephants.

But despite all these, it is still a huge challenge to control these illegal activities.


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