Eco-tourism can help conserve Kalabakan's free-roaming elephants, says Liew

KOTA KINABALU: Free-roaming wild Bornean elephants in Sabah's southern Kalabakan district can be turned into an eco-tourism draw, says Datuk Christina Liew.

The Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister said that the Kalabakan district, which borders Indonesia's Kalimantan, could draw more foreign tourists, especially when the Indonesian capital is relocated to Nusantara in Kalimanatan.

"Bornean elephants are the main attraction in the tourism industry in Sabah and it could become another area for eco-tourism," she said, adding that it would compliment existing areas like the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Danum Valley Conservation Area and Maliau Basin.

"I was informed that we can also see elephants roaming freely in Kalabakan. If we are all united in our desire to care for and protect Borneo Elephants in this area, it is not impossible that Kalabakan will become a tourist destination.

"It helps with the conservation of this critically endangered species," Liew said in her speech in conjunction with state-level 2023 World Elephant Day Celebration at the Dewan Terbuka in Kalabakan here on Friday (Sept 15).

Her speech was delivered by the Ministry's principal senior assistant secretary Murad Abdul Rashid.

Liew said various awareness programmes to mark World Elephant Day had been held since July, including focusing on students and teachers in the Tawau district, meeting the community in Tongod and the Elephant Day Festival in the Beluran district.

Some 2,640 participants have attended and followed the program.

The aim of the awareness programmes is to spread the message protecting elephants against critical threats and to accord appreciation to all conservation partners active in the conservation of Bornean Elephants.

In Sabah, the Bornean Elephant is fully protected and was categorised as endangered wildlife in the Red List, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Sabah estimates there are only 1,500 elephants left in the Central and East Coast of Sabah.

"The Borneo Elephant population is highly threatened due to several factors. One of the main factors is shrinking habitat areas for elephants due to land use changes in Sabah," she said.

Some cases of elephant deaths in Sabah are closely related to elephant-human conflict, especially in plantations and human settlements.

She said her ministry and Sabah Wildlife Department has implemented a short-term and long-term management plan in line with the Bornean Elephant Action Plan (2020-2029) to safeguard the sustainability of the Bornean Elephant population and the well-being of the people.

"This is because elephants are animals that need a wide area in their movements to find food and live their ecological lives," she added.

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