By Sandra Sokial
Sabah’s elephants may risk losing their “homes” due to forest clearing to make way for oil palm plantations.
In fact, the Malaysian chapter of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Malaysia) found that accelerating forest loss during the 1990s and 2000s in Sabah had shrunk the elephant range.
Based on its study in late 2000s, it was estimated there may be fewer than 1,500 Borneo elephants left in the state.
“Over the years, their forest habitat has grown smaller and their survival is threatened due to increasing conflict with humans,” WWF-Malaysia said in a statement today, adding that the conflict arose from humans intruding into the elephants’ natural habitat.
“In 2012 alone, there were 99 cases of human-elephant conflicts reported in Sabah. Sadly, most cases went unreported, and not a single suspect has been prosecuted for retaliatory killings over crop damage in recent years.
“The lack of forest connectivity between fragmented forests is just one of the reasons why there is an increase in human-elephant conflicts,” said Sharon Koh, a senior programme officer of WWF-Malaysia.
Describing it as “a complex situation”, she said there is a need for active participation from all stakeholders to reduce the conflicts.
As part of its continuous efforts to address human-elephant conflicts, WWF-Malaysia had co-organised a workshop with the Sabah Wildlife Department in March this year for oil palm companies in Kalabakan to discuss conflict management options.
At the workshop, participants showed locations in their plantations that have been fenced or trenched, thus blocking Borneo elephants’ movement paths and shared the locations of crop damage by the elephants, an essential information that will help to develop management options for human-elephant conflict.
Meanwhile, Dr Cheryl Cheah, a senior programme officer who coordinated the field research on Borneo elephants for WWF-Malaysia, noted that they do not recommend the translocation of Borneo elephants as it was an expensive measure that also created a lot of stress for the herds.
“Satellite collaring of elephants has also suggested that the translocated elephants often returned to their original habitat. Unhealthy translocated elephants may also introduce diseases to their new habitat,” she said.
WWF-Malaysia realised that there was no one-size-fits-all solution for human-elephant conflicts.
“Conservation-friendly land use planning, protection of critical areas from forest conversion, establishing safe movement corridors, well-planned electric fencing and compensation for crop damages to marginal farmers are some of the options suitable to reduce human-elephant conflicts,” she said.
With the implementation of these options, it was hoped that Borneo elephants would be able to continue surviving in their home in Sabah.