Let’s coexist with mutual benefits

In 2020, it was reported that 24 of the endangered Malayan tapirs were killed due to road accidents nationwide.

ADDRESS human and wildlife conflict with mutually beneficial coexistence, urge wildlife and environmental non-governmental organisations, as they call for the minimisation of human development impact on wildlife habitat.

Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) Malaysia president Dr Wong Ee Phin says ensuring animals have adequate space to thrive amid the development taking place would be the basis of human and wildlife conflict resolution.

“Land use change and habitat fragmentation can increase the interaction between human and wildlife, leading to an increase in human-wildlife conflict.

“Tackling human-wildlife conflict is not easy, especially when it involves endangered species.

“On one hand, we have to ensure the people’s well-being is taken care of, on the other hand the endangered species are losing their habitat and areas where they can roam and feed,” she says.

Conflict usually refers to cases such as crop or livestock damage, property damage, threats to safety, and human injury or death.

“To deal with the conflict, we need a collaborative effort with stakeholders on the ground,” she says.

Wong, who is also Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME) principal investigator adds that past statistics have shown that wildlife roadkill is concerning as quite a number of endangered species were recorded.

In 2020, for one, it was reported that 24 of the endangered Malayan tapirs were killed due to road accidents nationwide.

There is a need for more studies to examine the effect of roads and habitat fragmentation on Malaysia’s wildlife species and their movement, Wong stresses, noting that usually, roadkills are separated from being categorised as conflict.

“We need to work with road engineers and relevant authorities to see how we can reduce wildlife roadkills and allow safe passages and connectivity for wildlife,” she says.

The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) Malaysia believes the death of 59-year-old orang asli villager Anek bin Along, who was attacked and killed by a tiger in Gua Musang, Kelantan, earlier this year, reinforced the importance of addressing the conflict.

While incidents of human and tiger conflict are not uncommon in tiger range countries, with the increased incidents of such conflicts in Malaysia, there is a real urgency to find a holistic way to address and manage it.

WWF executive director and chief executive officer Sophia Lim says ideally, the solution should be to minimise contact between wild tigers and humans.

“However, when space and tiger habitat continue to shrink and human settlement areas overlap with tiger territory, there could be more frequent incidences of human tiger conflict and the threat of diseases such as canine distemper,” she says.

Camera-traps enable WWF-Malaysia to study and monitor Malayan tigers and their prey to obtain data that will enable government agencies and conservationists to better protect them.

Similarly, in Sabah, Bornean elephants are coming into more contact with people, thus increasing human-elephant conflict due to improper land use planning and fragmentation of forests, says Lim.

“Since 2013, we have placed 26 satellite collars on elephants to identify their key space requirements.

“This data is crucial in helping us reduce human-wildlife conflict,” she notes.

A total 5,500 km2 of elephant habitat was also surveyed in 2014 to 2015 to estimate their population size through ground surveys using dung counts.

Its team in Sabah also worked with the state government, NGOs, local communities and oil palm plantations to mitigate human-elephant conflict, Lim says.

There are also ongoing efforts in Sabah to reconnect and restore key degraded wildlife habitats, which will benefit wildlife including elephants and orangutans.

“WWF-Malaysia acknowledges that it can be challenging to balance the needs of humans and wildlife.

“Regardless, we must show empathy to both.

“We have to nurture compassion for wildlife, while also considering the wellbeing of people living in surrounding areas,” says Lim.

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