Some of the rescued elephant calves.
KOTA KINABALU: The increasing number of orphaned baby Bornean elephants being rescued from plantations near forest reserves is worrying the Sabah Wildlife Department.
The fact that the baby elephants were found wandering alone was an indication that the adult animals including their mothers had been killed.
Department director William Baya said the rescued baby elephants were a financial burden as the cost of feeding one per day was between RM200 and RM250.
For the past three years, the department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) rangers have been working around the clock rescuing and caring for 15 orphaned baby elephants all below one-year-old.
William said WRU rangers rescued two orphans in 2013 and the figure increased to three the following year.
The number of rescued elephant calves jumped to eight last year and just this month alone, Wildlife Rangers saved another two more orphans.
“All these babies were rescued throughout the east coast of Sabah in human-elephant conflict areas in Tawau, Lahad Datu , Telupid, Kinabatangan and Sandakan,” William said.
With the increasing loss of their habitat, reports of human-elephant conflict has skyrocketed to the point where efforts to reduce the problem has become extremely challenging.
He said the translocation of problematic elephants to other areas used to work well about 10 years ago.
However, many of the translocated elephants continued to come into conflict with humans at their new locations or they returned to the area where they had been removed from.
“Villagers are getting frustrated and taking the law into their own hands, shooting and even poisoning elephant herds,” William said.
According to William, the cost of feeding an elephant calf with milk formula amounted to more than RM500,000 annually excluding the cost for round-the-clock care for these orphans.
“I would sincerely like to call upon corporate bodies in Sabah or even throughout Malaysia to help us by funding the daily care and feeding of these baby elephants,” he said.
“They could even adopt these baby elephants in a similar way as UK-based NGO Orangutan Appeal UK does for the orang utan in Sepilok,” William said.
Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said the killing of adult elephants or herds was another hurdle in the survival of Sabah’s Bornean elephants.
He noted that wildlife researchers had voiced their worry over the low genetic differentiation among populations due to inbreeding caused by fragmented habitat.
“This could spell a deadly cocktail that would lead the Bornean elephant to extinction like our rhinos that are now considered extinct in the wild,” Dr Sen said.
“Steps must be taken right now and not 20 years later to save our elephants,” he added.