LAHAD DATU: Ten Borneo pygmy elephants that had ventured more than 45 km from the Tabin Managed Elephant Range, ending up 10 km from Lahad Datu town, were rescued over a period of one week from Jan 18.
The effort coordinated by the Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) under the Sabah Wildlife Department saw nine female elephants taken back to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, while a sole young male aged about four years was sent to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near Kota Kinabalu due to severe injury to his trunk, which was probably caused by a snare trap.
WRU senior officer Jibius Dausip said a team was dispatched after receiving a call from a man at Sri Tungku Simpang Ladang Permai to complain that elephants were roaming near his house.
He said the elephants, of various ages, were most likely part of a family group that had ventured beyond its traditional range.
In a statement issued jointly by the Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) on Wednesday, WRU wildlife veterinarian Dr Diana Ramirez said the injured male had to be sent to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park as it would have had minimum chance of survival in the wild.
She said two of the biggest females were collared with satellite units provided by the DGFC to track their movements.
However, tracking after a month has shown that the two females named Bikang 1 and Bikang 2 had yet to meet following their release on Jan 20 and Jan 23 respectively.
The department's senior officer and WRU manager Dr Senthilvel Nathan said it was impossible to translocate and release the whole group in one day for logistic reasons.
"We are currently studying the possibility of releasing future translocated herds together to prevent them from separating.
"It might cost more and it would be logistically more challenging because we would need to set up a pre-release holding area and rent more transporting lorries.
"However, our main concern is the elephants' welfare and to keep the group dynamics intact," Nathan said.
DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens said extensive agriculture through plantations such as oil palm had considerably reduced the habitat of elephants and other wildlife in Sabah, therefore increasing human-elephant conflicts.
He said the recent death of 14 elephants was most likely a result of human-elephant conflict in elephant ranges and hence, there was an obvious need to better manage the landscape within and around plantations by providing routes for wildlife to move from one forest to another.
"After one month of satellite monitoring, we can confirm that the two females have been exploring the reserve and have not (yet) ventured into the plantations around Tabin.
“If they ever return to the vicinity of Lahad Datu, we will be able to analyse their migratory pattern and advice the plantation owners on how to fence their land to avoid any more intrusion.
"While establishing corridors within plantations and between forest reserves can be a solution to mitigate conflicts, there is also an urgent need to stop any land conversion in elephant ranges as stated in the recently launched State Elephant Action Plan.
“All forest reserves in elephant ranges should be upgraded to Class One, providing a haven for elephants," said Goossens.
He said elephant translocation was part of a long-term programme that the Sabah Wildlife Department and DGFC kick-started last year to tackle human-elephant conflicts in plantations such as oil palm.
Funding is currently provided by The Asian Elephant Foundation and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. - Bernama
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