KOTA KINABALU: An increase in the population of Sabah's Bornean pygmy elephants coupled with a decline in their habitat is resulting in more frequent incidents involving the pachyderms.
A 57-year-old woman was slightly injured when she and a husband stumbled across an adult bull elephant on Thursday in Telupid district along the state’s east coast, in the latest human-elephant conflict.
Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said the 2.3m tall elephant injured the woman, Justina Ompang, while she was walking to work with her husband.
The incident occurred in Kampung Gambaron, about two kilometres from Telupid town, around 6.20am when heavy mist enveloped the area.
Justina and her husband, Khunyan bin Basimah, 40, were walking out of their home when they came across the elephant standing by the side of the road.
The couple were used to seeing elephants that would often retreat into the nearby jungle upon seeing them.
However, on that morning, the elephant charged at them and used its trunk to hit Justina.
Khunyan started shouting to distract the elephant and this worked, as the elephant immediately stopped attacking the woman and ran back into the forested area.
Villagers then rushed Justina to to the Telupid hospital where she was treated for bruises on her upper body.
“More than 30 elephants in four different groups have been causing severe damage to the villagers’ crops as well as damaging vehicles and motorcycles,” Dr Sen said.
The affected areas that have borne the brunt of these human-elephant conflicts were Kampung Bouto, Kampung Lubang Batu, Kampung Maliau and Kampung Gambaron.
Dr Sen said the department’s rangers, along with Wildlife Rescue Unit personnel have been working around the clock conducting Elephant Control Operations, trying to chase the elephants back into the forest and protecting the villages.
“Now with this new development, we have escalated our Elephant Control Operation to a full blown Capture and Translocation Program. It is going to be a very expensive operation, costing as much as RM 20,000-30,000 per elephant.
“We have to do it for the safety of the villager,” he said.
Department director William Baya human-elephant conflicts had been on the increase in recent years at elephant habitat areas in the central and south eastern parts of Sabah, including Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Beluran, Lahad Datu, Tawau and Nabawan and Pensiangan.
“We believe that the reason for this is the further increase in fragmentation and net loss of suitable elephant habitats, coupled by a probable net increase in elephant population state-wide,” he said, adding that a 2008 survey showed that Sabah elephant population stood at 2,000 heads.
“We need to find a solution for this problem by better managing our present elephant population as well as habitat,” William said.
He said relocating the elephants was not a permanent solution as there was documented proof that the same elephants made their way back to their original habitat and caused more conflict.
Woman hurt in elephant encounter
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