Sabah mulls growing elephant food in three areas to prevent encroachment

KOTA KINABALU: The state government is mulling the idea of planting elephant food in certain protected areas to prevent them from encroaching into plantations and risk getting killed.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew, who is also state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, said the move could possible reduce human-elephant conflict and hopefully, prevent extinction of the species in Sabah.

“Given the loss of habitat, the 2,000-odd elephants remaining in Sabah need a 'home' so that they will not encroach into oil-palm plantations and risk getting snared or shot to death,” she said in a statement on Monday (Oct 22).

Liew said the pygmy elephants are currently concentrated in three areas - Lower Kinabatangan Managed Elephant Range (MER), Tabin MER and Central Sabah MER in the Danum area.

The forests in these elephant habitat are a mix of primary and secondary forests.

“There is a pressing need to grow sufficient food for the elephants in their habitat and for a start, we will consider planting vegetation (grasses and shrubs) in the three areas,” she said.

According to Liew, the three areas would be connected at a later stage of development.

"The aim is to create a sustainable food chain within the three Managed Elephant Ranges, a new corridor of life for the elephants and avert crop damage in the oil-palm plantations and smallholdings,” she said.

An adult elephant can eat 300 pounds (136kg) of food comprising grass, roots, fruits and barks a day, and drink up to 150-200 litres of water daily.

"Bornean pygmy elephants are a 'prestige' breed and are endemic to Borneo. We are intensifying our efforts to protect the elephants and prevent their extinction,” Liew said.

She also called for cooperation of plantation owners and workers in not causing any harm to the animals but to inform the relevant authorities (Sabah Wildlife Department) in the event of any encroachment.

A total of 116 elephant deaths were recorded between October 2010 and September this year.

Of the figure, 30 elephants died this year alone with the latest involving a female aged between 12 and 15 at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve

in Tawau on Oct 18 following a fight with an elephant herd. 

The breakdown of the total number of elephant deaths is as follows : 2010 (2), 2011 (6), 2012 (5), 2013 (23), 2014 (6), 2015 (15), 2016 (20), 2017 (9) and 2018 (30).

The number of elephant deaths by district is as follows: Died in

captivity at the Lok kawi wildlife park in Penampang (2), Keningau (1), Tawau/Kalabakan (35), Lahad Datu (30), Kinabatangan (31) and Sandakan/Telupid (17).