The elephant population in Johor has faced significant challenges over the past 30 years, with factors such as forest fragmentation and rapid infrastructure, agriculture and plantation expansion.
With limited area for foraging and roaming, elephants tend to cross paths with humans, causing human-elephant interactions (HEI). However, efforts are being made to address these issues and protect these magnificent creatures, offering hope for their future survival in the region.
The Human–Elephant Coexistence (HEC) Project at Sungai Ara in Kota Tinggi, Johor, in collaboration with the Earthworm Foundation and Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), aims to empower local stakeholders, especially the smallholders to strive towards achieving coexistence with elephants to complement wildlife conservation, promote community safety and reduce crop damages.
This is to ensure the consistency of palm oil supply in the market, based on three key objectives.
The first objective is to improve the management of HEI with smallholders in Sungai Ara through capacity building and the application of physical barriers.
The second objective will be to connect neighbouring plantations and smallholders to achieve human-elephant coexistence via an integrated management plan.
The third objective will focus on strengthening data collection to evaluate the impact of the human-elephant coexistence strategies for adaptive management.
Leveraging on the collaboration between the Earthworm Foundation and MPOB, the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil-certified smallholders in Sungai Ara will act as the target group for the first objective.
The community recently completed the construction of their own electric fence, alongside trenches around their estate borders. However, some sections require further reinforcement and maintenance.
In addition to the physical barrier, the Malaysian Palm Oil Green Conservation Foundation (MPOGCF) and Earthworm Foundation intend to trial-run an early-warning system along 17km of the Sungai Ara border, due to the high frequency of elephant sightings in the area.
A coordinated response team is therefore integral to complement the use of electric fences, trenches and early warning systems in managing HEI.
Young palm trees are particularly vulnerable as elephants can easily reach and harm the delicate growth in the centre of the tree, resulting in the immediate death of the tree.
HEI management strategies often involve multiple stakeholders, which is why the scope of the second objective expands beyond the smallholders in Sungai Ara to the neighbouring plantations.
This project will also involve stakeholder consultation sessions and workshops, to build capacity and accountability towards the management of HEI in Sungai Ara. The workshops will focus on safety and patrolling as well as establishing a local HEC committee.
Data on HEI is essential to help monitor the effectiveness of the human-elephant coexistence strategy. A centralised database of HEI and elephant signs will also assist in identifying hotspots and movement trends.
This data is valuable input for developing long-term solutions involving land-use planning, zoning and gazette-identified areas for elephant corridors.
The project also aims to capture success stories and lessons learned by the Sungai Ara communities to inspire others to adopt similar practices.
With MPOGCF having allocated RM180,700 for this project, financial support from this grant will be channeled directly to the communities of Sungai Ara.
In the journey towards “Achieving Coexistence with Elephants in Sungai Ara, Kota Tinggi, Johor”, MPOGCF is confident these conservation efforts will help the country protect its biodiversity and the sustainability of the Malaysian palm oil industry in the global market.
For more information, go to www.mpogcf.org.
Article by MPOGCF conservation executive Syafiq Nazari.