PETALING JAYA: A dozen Borneo “pygmy elephants” of Sabah will find themselves in Chinese and Japanese zoos barely a month after it was confirmed that the animals belonged to a new subspecies.
It is learnt that the animals were captured from the wild by a renowned animal trader in Sabah after he purportedly convinced the Sabah Wildlife Department to allow them to be exported.
The elephants were deemed problematic animals because they encroached into human settlements and would be sent to “captive breeding programmes” in the two countries.
Sources said the department had endorsed the export permit and the shipment was scheduled for this Sunday.
Internationally, Asian elephants are protected under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).
Only strictly scrutinised export for scientific programmes, such as ex-situ conservation purposes, is allowed.
Under the Federal Constitution, Sabah and Sarawak have autonomy over the their resources, including wildlife. Hence, the Sabah Wildlife Department acts as an independent CITES management authority for the state.
However, because the elephant is a species regulated under CITES, endorsement from the CITES scientific authority of the country, anchored in the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry, is required.
The decision of the scientific authority supercedes management authority, but the ministry has yet to make a decision in this case.
The World Wide Fund for Nature’s Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy programme, which conducted the DNA tests on elephant dung collected along the migratory corridor of the pachyderm from different parts of Sabah, described the animal as a distinct subspecies from its cousins found on mainland Asia and Sumatra.
It is estimated that their population is not more than 2,000 animals in the wild, making the species a highly endangered one and any removal from the wild could trigger the extinction process.
Besides unreported poaching, the elephant is also threatened by habitat degradation caused by logging and land conversion, mainly into oil palm plantations.
WWF Malaysia has recommended more research on the animal's biology and ecology to promote its conservation.
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