TELUPID, Sabah: A 7.5-foot tall adult bull Borneon Pygmy elephant attacked and slightly injured a woman while she was walking to work with her husband here on Thursday.
The Sabah Wildlife Department disclosed that the attack took place at Kampung Gambaron, about 2km from the Telupid town, at around 6.20am on Feb 19, while heavy mist still enveloped the area.
The department’s assistant director, Dr Sen Nathan, said Justina Ompang, 57, and her husband, Khunyan Basimah, 40, were just walking out of their home when they came across the bull elephant standing by the roadside.
According to the victim’s husband, they were quite used to seeing these elephants and normally the herd ran back into the forest when approached by people.
But on that morning, instead of running away, a bull elephant charged at the couple and started using its trunk to hit the woman.
Her husband started shouting to distract the elephant, and it worked as the elephant immediately stopped attacking his wife and ran back into the forested area.
The couple were then brought by other villagers to the district hospital for emergency treatment.
The husband was fine but the wife suffered shock and some bruises on the upper torso of her body.
X-rays were taken to confirm that she did not sustain any fractures or internal injuries.
With no other serious injuries, the husband and wife were given medication and later discharged from the hospital on the same day.
“There is a very serious human-elephant conflict occurring in Telupid for the past two months. More than 30 elephants in four different groups have been causing severe damage to villagers’ crops as well as damaging vehicles and motorcycles,” said Dr Sen.
According to him, villagers who have borne the brunt of these human-elephant conflicts were Kampung Bouto, Kampung Lubang Batu, Kampung Maliau and Kampung Gambaron.
He said his department and the Wildlife Rescue Unit personnel had been working round-the-clock conducting elephant control operations, trying to chase away the elephants back into the forest and protecting the villages.
“Now with this new development we have stepped up our elephant control operation to a full blown capture and trans-location program.
It is going to be a very expensive operation, costing as much as RM20,000 to RM30,000 per elephant but for the safety of the villagers we have to do it.
“We really need to look at the other source of the problem because if we do not do something about it, the elephants will keep coming back,” Dr Sen added.
The department’s newly appointed director, William Baya, meanwhile, disclosed that human-elephant conflicts in recent years had been rapidly increasing throughout the elephant habitat areas in the central and south eastern parts of Sabah, encompassing the districts of Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Beluran, Lahad Datu, Tawau, Nabawan and Pensiangan.
“We believe that the reason for this rapid upsurge in the number of conflicts is the further increase in fragmentation and nett loss of suitable elephant habitat, coupled by a probable nett increase in elephant population statewide.
“Based on a survey done in 2008, we have about 2,000 individual elephants throughout Sabah.
Thus, we need to find a solution as we have documented proof that the same elephants that we have trans-located have actually made their way back to cause more conflicts in the same area where we had previously caught them.
“We will be working with other stakeholders, namely the Sabah Forestry Department, the Telupid District Office and environmental non-governmental organizations to come up with a sound solution to solve this issue once and for all,” he added.