A challenge for Sabah wildlife authorities to move elephants to facilities with space to roam freely

KOTA KINABALU: Measures are being planned to place elephants kept at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near here, where a handler was gored to death on Christmas morning at facilities with the space for the animals to roam freely.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said, however, this would prove to be a daunting task because Sabah does not have such facilities at the moment.

“Such facilities are not available in Sabah, unless the government provides the adequate funding to do so,” he said, when contacted on Friday (Dec 30).

Another way, he added, was to translocate the elephants to facilities outside the country which has sufficient means for the animals to freely move and without being confined to tight spaces or being chained.

“The welfare of elephants is the most important aspect in the management of the animals in captivity,” he said, adding there were 14 elephants at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park presently.

Tuuga said there were too many elephants in captivity in Sabah now, pointing out the existing facilities could not accommodate their freedom of movement in an area with sufficient size.

Wildlife ranger Joe Fred Lansou, 49, was gored to death by an adult elephant within the park's enclosure at about 8.30am on Sunday (Dec 25).

The father of three school-going children was the head of the elephant unit at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Jafry Ariffin had said previously that the state Wildlife Department had informed him that standard operating procedures were in place for their handlers at the park and the sudden fatal attack by the adult elephant was an unfortunate incident.

Meanwhile, Tuuga said the department was also desperately understaffed when it comes to the management of the elephants.

“The number of our staff looking after the elephants is way fewer than what it should be.

“Most of the workers’ salaries are sponsored or paid for by non-governmental organisations,” he said.

Tuuga also explained that the handling of elephants in captivity in Sabah followed most other Asian countries.

“This means that this is free contact, meaning the handler has no barrier with the elephants so, there is always the danger of an attack.

“We are starting to train our handlers in protected contact from the US but we cannot fully practice protected contact because our facility was designed and built for free contact,” he said.

For the moment, he said, elephants that were deemed as risky at the park will be isolated.

Tuuga hoped that this would be a temporary measure as their freedom was being denied.

On the internal probe over the goring incident, he said they were hoping to launch the investigation as soon as possible.

“We were directed by the Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry to conduct an internal investigation.

“This is to find out what might have triggered the attack and learn from that to prevent such incidents from happening again in the future,” he said.

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