The day when celebrated Baby Joe became aggressive

Wake up, mum: A file picture of Baby Joe tugging on his dead mother at Tawau’s Gunu Rara forest reserve in January 2013.

KOTA KINABALU: The elephant, Baby Kejora @ Joe, caught worldwide attention when he was the sole survivor of a poisoning that killed 14 Borneo pygmy elephants nine years ago.

A heart-wrenching photograph of the calf trying to wake his dead mother up at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve about 140km from Tawau on Jan 25, 2013, caught the attention of Malaysians and others globally.

In an ironic twist of events on Christmas Day, Joe was again caught in national and international spotlight, this time, fixed squarely on the dilemma that Sabah faces in handling captive elephants.

At around 8.30am that Sunday, Joe had turned against his handler Joe Fred Lansou, 49, goring him while he was treating an injured calf at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near here.

Lansou, who was apparently tusked on his chest and abdomen, died instantly at the exhibition area of the zoo where the captive elephants were kept.

In a way, Joe’s actions that day focuses on the challenges that conservationists face in trying to ensure the survival of the pygmy elephants, now numbering between 1,500 and 1,900 in Sabah’s wild.

Following the incident, Joe has been chained up in an enclosed area as wildlife officials decide on his future.

“We have isolated it to avoid contact with the staff but it is not actually good for Joe because his movements are limited in a small space,” said Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga in an interview.

He said the option to move Joe to either the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary (BES) in Kinabatangan or Sepilok in Sandakan were not viable as both places were already full.

“There are just too many elephants in captivity in Sabah. A possible solution is to send some of them overseas (zoos) if the government agrees to the idea,” he said.

Tuuga said there was a total of 26 captive elephants in all three facilities, most of which could not be sent back into the wild as they would not survive.

The Lok Kawi Wildlife Park itself has 16 elephants with only six staff members to look after them.

A few overseas zoos, said Tuuga, had indicated that they were prepared to accept Joe and another captive male elephant Oyoh.

“We are facing other challenges like getting new injured or abandoned baby elephants,” he said, stressing that culling Joe was not an option and was not being considered.

Tuuga said it already had a Sabah Captive Elephant Management Plan put in place by experts.

“We are already implementing a few of these, including sending our staff for training in elephant handling.

“In fact, the deceased (Lansou) had recently come back from the United States where he and another colleague went for training at the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary,” he said, adding that at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, they were in the process of modifying the current enclosure.

“But this will take some time to be completed,” he said.

Lansou, who leaves behind a wife and three schoolgoing children, was the head of the park’s elephant unit.

He was known to be a “brave and daring” ranger that had over the years been involved in caring for the elephants in captivity as well as in translocation operations or capturing the animals in the wild.

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