KOTA KINABALU: The area where the seven Borneo pygmy elephants drowned in a mud pool in Sabah’s southern Kalabakan is part of the home range for satellite-collared jumbos roaming around the Maliau Basin Conservation Area.
WWF Malaysia head for conservation in Sabah Dr John Tay said that the tragic deaths were worrying because the movement patterns of one of the collared herds showed that the area was part of their home range.
“Sabah’s protected areas are wildlife havens. If steps are not taken to prevent this tragedy from recurring, we may find other wildlife species falling victim as well,” he said.
In the incident on Sept 10, five elephants including two newborn calves, were found dead at a mud pool from an abandoned quarry in a secondary forest area of Rinukut in Kalabakan.
Two others that were dehydrated and blind, had to be put to sleep while another two fled after being freed by wildlife rangers.
Dr Tay, however, said that the herd of nine that were trapped in the mud pool was not among those collared under the tracking programme.
“We are quite concerned to find out that this tragedy happened quite close to priority conservation areas such as Maliau Basin Conservation Area which is a totally protected area,” he said
He appealed to companies operating close to forests and protected areas to demonstrate due consideration for wildlife in Sabah.
Dr Tay described the recent accidental deaths as a huge blow to the conservation of the elephants whose population was estimated to number less than 2,000.
“As its name suggests, this species is only found in Borneo and most of them call Sabah home.
“Conservationists call these giants the engineers of the forests because they play multiple roles to keep our forests healthy, and everyone depends on the forests for their survival,” he added.
He said that WWF-Malaysia collars several herds in the central forests of Sabah to study their space usage, monitor movement and also to advocate for joint mitigation options with government agencies and plantations where these Borneo elephants roam.
“Borneo elephants do not have a natural predator in the wild.
However, the biggest threat to their existence is the loss of habitat. This happens when forests are converted fot other land uses,” he said.
He said another serious threat to elephants in Sabah was human-elephant conflicts.
“So far we have received reports of suspected retaliatory killings, whereby elephants were shot or poisoned because of the crop damage that they caused.
Some elephants have also been accidentally killed when they were trapped by snares set out by poachers for other wildlife species,” he said.