KOTA KINABALU: Sabah wildlife conservationists should remain focused on managing the overall Borneo pygmy elephant population and not be distracted by individual cases, says non-governmental organisation Bringing Back Our Rare Animals (Bora).
Its executive director Datuk Dr John Payne said that the tragic death of an elephant calf on June 21 should not sidetrack them from the bigger focus to manage the surviving elephant population.
"The death of the young elephant is a tragedy, but several points should not be overlooked.
"One is that the focus on managing individual elephant welfare should not distract from the greater need to manage the entire population," he said when commenting on the latest death of a calf whose front leg was severed by a snare trap.
Wildlife veterinarians amputated the leg but it died 24 hours later.
Payne said that more than half of the former prime habitat of wild elephants in Sabah was lost between 1980 and 2000.
"Unlike the Sumatran rhinoceros (now extinct in Sabah), Bornean elephants are reproducing.
"They will always seek nutritious foods growing on fertile soils in their former habitats," he said.
Payne was referring to the need to manage feeding grounds and forest corridors for the greater elephant population as part of management compared to funds involved in maintaining an injured elephant.
He said an elephant with a severely injured foot would be in constant pain for the rest of its life, whatever might have been done to save its life.
"Worse than the inevitable withering of the affected leg will be abrasion and loss of cartilage in the compensating joints of the other legs and ever-worsening torso pain from the asymmetry.
"The idea of a prosthetic leg for elephants is a gimmick. Elephants are not humans. Managing cleanliness and pain in such damaged elephants are too difficult.
"The most humane thing that humans can do for an elephant with a severely damaged leg is euthanisation," he added.
Apart from the ethical aspect, he said the issue of cost.
"Elephants, whether in pain or not, may potentially live to be 60 years old and, if cared for by humans, each one needs at least one full-time keeper and 100kg of food daily. This is an enormous commitment.
"Who is responsible for the costs? Decision-making for wildlife should not be based on emotion, perceived public opinion and fashion," Payne added.
Up to June 23, 2022, some 15 elephants have been reported dead, including deaths due to snares, elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus disease or viral infections, natural causes and also possible poisoning.
Sabah's elephant population is estimated to comprise around 1,500 to 2,000 animals and continues to be threatened by habitat loss through forest fragmentation, hunting and poaching, among others including human-elephant conflicts.