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Protect the future of Sabah’s elephants
Published on: Sunday, February 04, 2024
By: Assaf Levy
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Sabah’s pygmy elephants face many challenges.
‘AN elephant never forgets” is the famous saying that holds undeniable truth as we uncover more about these gentle giants.

They exhibit intellectual capabilities that distinguish them from others in the animal kingdom, from remembering specific people to mapping complex migration routes across hundreds of kilometres.

Furthermore, they remember these specific details decades later, proving their survival skills and revealing the astounding intelligence and emotional complexity of these majestic beings.

They are highly respected and valued in many societies due to their wisdom, strength and strong family connections. They play important roles in folklore, myth and religious stories, deeply connecting them to human culture and history.

Featuring a human body combined with an elephant head, Lord Ganesha is a revered figure in Hindu scriptures.

He is widely worshipped as the deity who removes obstacles and represents wisdom and intellect.

In Thai culture, elephants are regarded as a national symbol of luck, prosperity and power. Within African folklore, elephants are revered as wise and noble creatures, believed to bring blessings and good fortune to communities.

During ancient times in Egypt, elephants were associated with strength and royalty, often portrayed in artistic representations and embraced as symbols of power by pharaohs.

In many tribal cultures, elephants are considered sacred animals and command profound respect for their intelligence, social bonds and role in the ecosystem.

The impact of elephants extends far beyond their numbers, influencing the entire ecosystem they inhabit. They modify habitats, create water sources and disperse seeds through their dung, supporting biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Their extensive migration patterns help maintain ecological balance and nutrient recycling. They also indirectly regulate predator populations and influence vegetation composition.

Similar to the keystone in architecture, which functions as the central stone supporting all other stones and providing vital structural stability, elephants serve as keystone species.

They play a critical role in maintaining the structure and functioning of an ecosystem. Protecting and conserving these magnificent creatures is vital, not only for their survival but for maintaining the health and balance of the ecosystems they inhabit.

Battling for survival Every year, countless elephants are brutally slaughtered for their priceless tusks, a tragic consequence of the persistent illegal ivory trade that persists despite global bans.

The rapid expansion of human activities encroaches upon their natural havens, resulting in the loss and fragmentation of their habitats. This forces these majestic creatures into smaller territories, where they encounter increased conflicts with humans.

The landscapes that elephants are accustomed to for years are shifting due to changing climate patterns, adding another layer of uncertainty that affects their access to vital food and water sources.

There is also the possibility of disease outbreaks, with the ominous threat of Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) looming over elephants, mainly Asian elephants.

To understand the disease caused by EEHV among Asian elephants, we must know the diversity within the world of elephants.

There are three main species: the African elephant, which includes the African bush elephant and the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant.

Each species has its unique characteristics and habitats. The African elephant roams Africa’s vast savannas and dense forests, while the Asian elephant is found in various Asian countries, such as India and Thailand.

Different species have distinct needs, face different threats and hold specific ecological roles, underscoring the necessity to customise conservation strategies accordingly.

Fine balance Around the globe, brave individuals are joining forces to protect and save elephants from the challenges they face. Governments, non-governmental organisations and conservation groups, such as BioDB, are working together to take a resolute stance against the threats endangering these majestic creatures.

They are taking bold steps to protect the future of elephants, armed with knowledge, innovation and determination. Human-elephant conflicts have increased as human populations rise and encroach on traditional elephant habitats.

Focusing on community involvement, exploring alternative forms of support and using cuttingedge fencing techniques have gained significance in addressing these conflicts and fostering harmonious coexistence. Poaching is a critical-added threat to elephant populations, primarily fueled by the illegal ivory trade.

Governments and conservation organisations have intensified their anti-poaching efforts through increased law enforcement, intelligence-led operations and awareness campaigns to curb the demand for ivory.

In recent years, elephant conservation efforts have gained momentum worldwide. The use of cutting-edge instruments, such as GPS monitoring collars, drones and video traps to follow elephant movements and behaviours as well as locate poaching hotspots has been vital in supporting these efforts.

Data-driven approaches have become prevalent, empowering conservationists to develop effective strategies. The emergence of ethical and sustainable wildlife tourism has provided an additional avenue for conservation support.

Today, many responsible travellers seek experiences that not only contribute to elephant conservation but also uplift local communities while avoiding cruelty.

Climate change is impacting elephant habitats, migratory patterns and food sources. Conservationists are diligently studying the potential effects of climate change on elephant populations and integrating climate resilience measures into their conservation plans.

Moreover, international collaboration has become a pivotal aspect of elephant conservation, with neighbouring countries forging alliances to safeguard migratory corridors and enhance regional conservation efforts. 

These crossborder initiatives will address critical issues, such as poaching and habitat protection on a broader scale. Balancing elephant conservation with socioeconomic development is a delicate task. 

Conservation measures often require restrictions on land use and resource exploitation, potentially impacting local livelihoods. Striking a balance between preserving elephant habitats and supporting human development can be challenging.

Role as guardians As we learn more about these creatures, we discover their challenges, and the urgency to act becomes clearer. We realise that their story is not just a tale of wilderness but also resilience, coexistence and shared responsibility.

The fate of elephants is not carved in stone, but humanity’s collective will and efforts shape it. Governments, communities and individuals must play vital roles in determining the outcome of this epic saga. Together, as guardians of the Earth, we can shape the future of elephants and their habitats.

Let us be the authors of change, crafting the world of coexistence where elephants roam. Join us in this conservation journey and help us create hope for future generations to witness and enjoy the presence of elephants in the wild.

“The survival of elephants is a shared responsibility, transcending borders and cultures. Together, we can create a better world for them and us.” – Prince William, Duke of Cambridge

'The impact of elephants extends far beyond their numbers, influencing the entire ecosystem they inhabit. They modify habitats, create water sources and disperse seeds through their dung, supporting biodiversity and ecosystem health.'

The writer is the Founder and CEO of BioDB.com, a group tasked with collecting conservation data, raising awareness for biodiversity loss and fundraising. 

- The views expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Express.

- If you have something to share, write to us at: [email protected]



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