KOTA KINABALU: The deaths of seven pygmy elephants in a quarry pond, coming in the wake of the poisoning of 14 adult elephants three years ago, have again raised questions over the conservation of the sub-species.
The elephants are considered endangered and only about 1,500 are to be found in the wild – almost all in Sabah.
Although the Sabah Wildlife Department has ruled out foul play in the latest case, these gentle giants of Sabah remain under threat in shrinking forest areas in view of the severe human-elephants conflicts.
Fears are real that they may face the same fate as the rhinos, where only three are left in captivity and none seen in the wild in the last five years.
“It is really a sad day for conservation to see seven helplessly die in a (disused quarry) mud pool where they enjoy wallowing,” said elephant conservationist Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens.
“I just can’t imagine how they suffered before they died, They must have been struggling to get out of the pool,” he said.
Furthermore, it was a huge setback to see calves dying in the tragedy, he added.
“Elephants are slow breeders. It takes time for their population to increase,” he said, adding that the jumbos were constantly facing threats to their habitat amid growing conflict with development.
This week’s discovery of the dead elephants is the second largest of such deaths in Sabah.
In January 2013, 14 adult elephants were found dead in a widely suspected case of poisoning in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve area in Tawau. One calf tugging to its mother survived.
Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun described the heartbreaking news as a big dent to efforts towards conservation.
“It is a very sad day for Sabah. We are constantly pushing conservation efforts in Sabah and this incident wiped out a whole herd of our elephants,” Masidi said.
He said this was a lesson for all to learn and that everyone had a duty to assist in conservation and not leave it solely to the rangers of the department.
He also questioned why the disused quarry pond was still there, saying that the people around it or those operating in the area could have identified the threat not only to animals but also human beings.
He said plantations and other companies operating close to wildlife-rich areas should play a role in identifying dangers to the wildlife and take remedial action to prevent untoward incidents.
“People must act consciously. Conservation should be part of our lives. It should be an automatic action to conserve our wildlife and not just leave it to our rangers,” he said.
“The elephants belong to all of us.”