Sabah to improve elephant-handling procedures following handler's death

KOTA KINABALU: Safer elephant handling procedures are being put in place by the Sabah Wildlife Department following last year's Christmas Day incident where a handler died after he was mauled at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near here.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew said that a cabinet paper was being prepared for the transition from free contact management to protective contact management of captive elephants in Sabah.

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"This is to ensure the safety of animal keepers," she told reporters after opening a Workshop on Managing People and Macaques in Shared Spaces at a hotel here on Monday (March 20).

She said currently there were 25 elephants in captivity at three facilities in the state.

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There are 14 elephants at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near here, six in Sepilok, Sandakan and five at the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary (BES) in Kinabatangan, she said.

"We are in the process of implementing the Sabah Captive Elephant Management Plan (CEMP) on safe elephant handling as part of the Sabah Bornean Elephant Action Plan (2020-2029).

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"I will present the paper to the Cabinet for deliberation and consideration. It is about improving the facilities and adopting good management practices in managing elephants in captivity," Liew said.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga explained that the free management to protective management involved modifying all the structures sheltering the elephants.

"At the moment, we are only doing free contact management which is dangerous for the handler," he said.

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"The idea of changing to protected contact management is to make it safer for the handler, where the elephant is inside the enclosure while the handler is outside.

"We call this protected contact. We need funding to modify current infrastructure for captive elephants," he added.

In the incident, Kejora, or Joe, the pygmy elephant, gored handler Joe Fred Lansou, 49, who was treating an injured new-born calf at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park.

Since the incident, Kejora has remained in solitary confinement until changes were made to the enclosures.

Kejora caught worldwide attention back in 2013 as he was the sole survivor of a poisoning that killed 14 Borneo pygmy elephants in Gunung Rara in Tawau.

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