KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Government is proceeding with an exchange programme with three foreign zoos involving 10 Borneo pygmy elephants from the state, pending approval from a Science, Technology and Environment Ministry panel.
State Tourism, Culture and Environment Assistant Minister Datuk Karim Bujang said if approval was granted by the ministry’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and of Flora and Fauna (CITES) science authority, nine of the animals would be sent to two zoos in China and one to Japan.
“Under the exchange programme, the elephants are being sent to these zoos on loan. We will eventually get them back,” he told reporters at his office yesterday.
Karim said the Shanghai Safari Park and Ningbao Zoo were the two facilities in China that had sought the elephants to begin their own breeding programme of these animals.
He said the Fukuyama Zoo in Japan had also requested for a single elephant to “add new blood” to its existing breeding efforts of Borneo pygmy elephants, started nearly 20 years ago.
Karim said reports that the elephants had been captured by a private trader and were due to be exported to China and Japan by tomorrow were “preposterous.”
According to him, the elephants had been “translocated” and removed from areas being developed for agriculture, and they would only be sent to the foreign zoos with proper approvals.
He said lending the animals to other zoos for breeding purposes was part of the recently drawn-up plan for managing Sabah’s elephant population, which now numbered about 1,600.
“One of the efforts is to create more protected areas such as the lower Segama region, adjoining the Tabin and Kulamba forest reserves.
“Another important issue is habitat management by practising sustainable forest management that will accommodate a host of wildlife, not just elephants,” he said.
Noting that elephants were already facing overcrowding in protected areas such as the Tabin wildlife reserve, he said the state wildlife authority might have to eventually consider reducing their numbers by culling.