KOTA KINABALU: It isn't enough for Sabah to just step up enforcement but the state must also take a hard look at development projects to avoid any further human-elephant conflict, say conservationists.
Two prominent Kinabatangan based conservationists – Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens and Hutan director Dr Marc Acreanaz – believe that apart from firm action against poachers, there must be steps to avoid and ensure no further development aggravates the current human-elephant conflict areas.
The state is still reeling from the shocking recent deaths of three of its endangered Bornean Pygmy elephants in a space of five weeks.
Dr Goossens said there was growing concern over resurfacing talk that the scrapped Sukau bridge project over the Kinabatangan river was back on amid other proposed plans for Pan Borneo Highway that cuts into wildlife areas.
The RM223mil Sukau bridge project was scrapped in 2017 by the previous state government amid mounting local and international pressure that the bridge was threatening one of the last sanctuaries of the rare Bornean pygmy elephant.
The proposed Sukau bridge project received strong objections from local and international conservationists who said it would disrupt the migratory route of wildlife and negate wildlife conservation.
"We must avoid more development that can harm elephants such as on some stretches of the Pan Borneo Highway as well as the Sukau bridge that seems to come back on the agenda," Dr Goossens said when contacted on Tuesday (Nov 5).
He said that it was also important to identify and ban herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers that potentially kill elephants in plantations.
Dr Goossens said that the move by police to offer the General Operation Force's (GOF) Tiger Platoon to help both Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Forestry Department would help scare the poachers.
"Strong law enforcement to stop poaching and increased intelligence and more inter-agency collaboration would help in checking the problem," he added.
Dr Ancrenaz, who echoed similar views, said infrastructure development like the Pan Borneo Highway would fragment some elephant populations and hoped that there would be informed land use planning and allocation that will respect wildlife needs.
He said the plans to build a road through Tawai Forest reserve as well as one proposal to connect Kinabatangan and Tabin in Lahad Datu would aggravate wildlife conflict.
Over the last two years, some 40 elephants have died due to poaching, natural causes and human-wildlife conflict in the east coast of Sabah.
There is an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 jumbos left in Sabah's wild.
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