By Lim Chia Ying
Conflict arises between humans and elephants when villages, farms and plantations close in on wild habitats. Electric fence is one way to avoid the encounters. For centuries, elephants have roamed the forests. Yet today, these majestic mammals are battling for survival in their very habitat as villages and plantations take over their land. Having to grapple with a shrunken environment, these wild elephants often end up in village farms in their search for food.
This leads to human-elephant conflict, a long-standing problem not just in Malaysia, but also India and Sri Lanka.
To mitigate “encroachment” by jumbos and confrontation with humans, electric fencing was introduced under the 9th Malaysia Plan (2006 to 2010). Some 72.8km of electric fence costing RM3.49mil was installed at three sites: Kampung Bukit Sapi-Kampung Batu Reng in Lenggong, Perak (34km), Felcra Gugusan Peta Temalik-Kemajuan Kampung Sungai Labis in Segamat, Johor (21km) and Ladang Persind-Sungai Temechil in Kampung Sri Lukut in Kluang, Johor (17.8km).
Under the current 10th Malaysia Plan (2011 to 2015), another 189.8km of fencing is being installed in conflict hotspots at a cost of RM8.1mil. They are in:
> Perak: Air Banun in Grik (12km), Sungai Siput in Kuala Kangsar (34km) and Kampung Bersia in Hulu Perak (10km)
> Terengganu: Kampung Sekayu in Hulu Terengganu (29.5km), Kampung Pelong in Setiu (35km) and Kampung Payung, also in Setiu (18km)
> Pahang: Kampung Som in Jerantut (14km) and Kampung Sementeh in Temerloh (7.3km)
> Kampung Batu Melintang in Jeli, Kelantan (12km) and Kampung Mawai in Kota Tinggi, Johor (18km)
The Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) estimates there to be between 1,220 and 1,680 wild elephants in our jungles. It is collaborating with the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus to study the impact of the electric fencing on local communities.
“The outcome of this study will enable us to determine whether electric fencing has reduced human-elephant conflict and give us an indication of the community’s level of tolerance towards elephants,” says Salman Saaban, director of the biodiversity conservation division.
He says a study carried out in Lenggong, Perak in 2011 showed that electric fencing has enabled farmers to continue their agriculture activities without fear of elephants destroying their crops. It is challenging to persuade villagers to be more tolerant to damage and losses caused by wild elephants. It is learnt that since the installation of the electric fence in 2006 until 2011, conflict cases has dropped by 36%.
Salman says the electric fence is monitored for its condition and effectiveness. It contains negligible dosage of current that sends out non-fatal shockwaves. The fence poles are painted white to enable recognition of the structure by the elephants over time.
“Various factors can disrupt the system’s electricity current or cause power leaks. For example, no undergrowth should touch the cable and no trees should fall on the fence. Regular inspection is important, as is gaining the local community’s co-operation to ensure that the electric fence is in working order.”
To some extent, electric fencing can help confine elephants within their forest ranges but this might not be fully achieved since they can cross sites which are not fenced up.
To track the elephants’ movements, GPS collars have been fitted on 34 individuals under a research project by the University of Nottingham. Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, an associate professor at the school of geography, says the GPS collars can provide insights into the response of elephants to translocation and the impact of roads on their movements in the Belum-Temenggor forest in Perak. More....