KOTA KINABALU: A coalition of nine civil society organisations has applauded the Sabah government for approving the Bornean Elephant Action Plan for 2020-2029 last week, an indication that it is serious in conserving the species.
In a joint statement on Tuesday (Feb 18), they agreed that the issue of habitat fragmentation currently faced within Sabah’s forests can only be resolved when the state government leads the way.
“Endemic to the state of Sabah and facing a threat of decline, the Bornean elephant is listed as a totally protected species under Part I, Schedule I of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.
“A key factor that causes these elephants to be endangered is connectivity or what scientists call habitat fragmentation.
“The government needs to be thoughtful and strategic in development planning for major infrastructure projects, such as the Pan Borneo Highway, ” said the group.
The coalition includes the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Borneo Futures, Danau Girang Field Centre, Forever Sabah, HUTAN, Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), PACOS Trust, Seratu Aatai and WWF-Malaysia.
Towards this end, the coalition said Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal has shown the attitude needed towards wildlife preservation.
He was previously quoted as saying that the Pan Borneo Highway construction should only involve expansion of existing roads, and not opening up or constructing new alignments that will affect forested areas in the state.
“Elephants by nature, need vast areas to roam in order to fulfil their ecological needs.
“When their natural habitat is cut off by linear man-made infrastructure such as four-lane highways, the range occupied by these elephants, the largest land mammals in Borneo, is interrupted.
“They cannot get access to their food and water and this inevitably results in them foraging in areas occupied by humans, escalating the rate of people-elephant conflicts, ” said the coalition.
They added that elephant deaths be it through deliberate killing for ivory, or intentional or unintentional poisoning, and human-elephant conflicts have to stop and can actually be avoided.
“Looking at and commending the constructive efforts taken by the Sabah government to firstly plan to keep and extend the current network of totally protected forests in Sabah to 30% and secondly, to prevent the building of roads and bridges into elephant habitats, the coalition stands ready to provide their input, support and collaboration in these matters of great concern.
“Dialogues and public awareness programmes will be organised in the coming months, providing spaces for generative discussions on elephants and ecotourism in Sabah’s emerging future.
“As an umbrella species, the Bornean elephants will help support myriad other species and this will perpetuate a long-term revenue stream for the ecotourism sector," said the group.
The coalition noted that prior to the elephant action plan, the new state government under Shafie also adopted action plans to protect the Bornean Banteng, Proboscis Monkey and Sunda Clouded Leopard - all totally protected species - under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.
“The coalition believes that such strong commitments by the state government will, in time, make Sabah the ‘crown jewel’ of conservation efforts in the region, if not the world, ” they added.