Relocating elephants not answer to conflict with humans, says expert

Gentle pachyderm: Less then 1,500 Bornean pygmy elephants remain in Sabah forests and environmentalist are working frantically to put a human-elephant management plan in place.

KOTA KINABALU: Translocation of Bornean pygmy elephants is not the solution to minimise the human-elephant conflict in Sabah.

Field researchers from WWF Malaysia found that most translocated elephants often returned to the original habitat based on satellite tracking, a senior programme officer of WWF Dr Cheryl Cheah said.

Satellite collaring of elephants has also suggested that the translocated elephants often returned to their original habitat, Dr Cheah said.

“We don’t recommend the translocation of Bornean elephants as it is an expensive measure that also creates a lot of stress for the herds.

She said unhealthy translocated elephants may also introduce diseases to their new habitat.

Dr Cheah, who coordinates the field research on Bornean elephants for WWF-Malaysia said this during a recent workshop co-hosted with Sabah Wildlife Department with oil palm companies in east coast Sabah.

The workshop discussed ways and means to address human-elephant conflict management in efforts to conserve the ‘gentle giants’ whose numbers were less then 1,500 in fragmented forests across Sabah.

The WWF Malaysia noted that their numbers over the years as their forest habitat have grown smaller and their survival was threatened due to increasing conflict with humans who were intruding into the traditional range of elephants.

The workshop was told that in 2012 alone, there were 99 cases of human-elephant conflict reported in Sabah with most cases going unreported and not a single suspect has been prosecuted for retaliatory killings over crop-damage in recent years.

“The lack of forest connectivity between fragmented forests is just one of the reasons why there’s an increase in human-elephant conflict,” WWF senior programme officer Sharon Koh said.

“It’s a complex situation and we need active participation from all stakeholders to reduce the conflict,” she added.

Oil palm plantations officials also showed locations in their plantations that have been fenced or trenched to block elephants’ movement paths while also shared locations where crops were damaged by the elephants.

Such information would be used to develop management options for human-elephant conflict.

Various management options including conservation-friendly land use planning, protection of critical areas from forest conversion, establishing safe movement corridors, well-planned electric fencing and compensation for crop damages to marginal farmers were among ideas suitable to reduce human-elephant conflicts.

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