Elephant deaths: Sabah to go after plantation owners, smallholders


KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah government is sending a stern warning to landowners that they will be held accountable for the deaths of Borneo pygmy elephants on their property.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Christina Liew said the government will invoke the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 law against landowners whose properties are found to have snare traps or other trapping devices.

The Deputy Chief Minister said neither smallholders nor big plantation owners will be spared from being investigated under Section 33 of the Act for prohibited methods of hunting.

Liew added that under this particular law, the Sabah Wildlife Department director has the power to prosecute those involved in the deaths of elephants.

“We will ask the landowners to come and explain why elephants were killed on their land.

“We have to turn to this last resort as the killings have been rampant and we feel sorry that these elephants were killed unnecessarily.

“Whatever the motive, the killings have to stop. This law will be enforced with immediate effect, starting today,” she told reporters after attending her ministry's 50th-anniversary celebration here on Thursday (Aug 30).

Liew, who is also Tawau MP, said the operators of forest reserves would also be investigated if elephants were found dead in their area.

“Some people think because the elephants died in forest reserves or on government land, that we would be lenient.

“No, no more. So far we have done everything we can, and we have been advising them. These human-elephant conflicts have been going on long enough.

“Now that the situation has become worse, we have no choice but to invoke the law,” she said.

Recently, WWF-Malaysia urged the government to look into amending the enactment to help counter the worrying number of elephant deaths from snare traps in Sabah.

The organisation suggested the Act be amended to include a strict liability provision for private landowners to be held accountable, and they would have to prove their innocence should an elephant die on their land or if evidence of illegal activities such as snares, hunting platforms and pitfall traps are found in their area.

Through this provision, the burden of proof will be reversed, which would mean that it no longer lies with prosecutors.

Four elephants, including a cow and its calf shot by poachers, have died over the last weekend, with a fifth injured by snare traps in the state's east coast.

The latest deaths bring to 25 the number of elephants killed in the first eight months of this year, with most of the deaths discovered in the past four months.

Christina Liew , Sabah , elephants