A Jumbo chal­lenge

The last wild ele­phant in Se­lan­gor was cap­tured in 1991. The strug­gle con­tin­ues to en­sure that this does not hap­pen in the re­main­ing six states in Penin­su­lar Malaysia where herds of en­dan­gered mam­mals roam.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By MARIA J. DASS star2­green@thes­tar.com.my

THE last wild ele­phant in Se­lan­gor was cap­tured in 1991. That is the price paid for rapid de­vel­op­ment and de­for­esta­tion in the state, which re­sulted in the loss of habi­tat for the largest land an­i­mal.

Fast for­ward 25 years later and it’s been an up­hill strug­gle to en­sure that ele­phants do not per­ish in the re­main­ing six states in Penin­su­lar Malaysia where they still roam.

The main threat to these an­i­mals is the loss of habi­tat due to de­for­esta­tion when farms and plan­ta­tions are set up. This in­evitably leads to hu­man- ele­phant con­flict. These once re­gal an­i­mals are also threat­ened by poach­ers who are af­ter their valu­able tusks for ivory.

Most ele­phants are found in the East Coast states of Pa­hang, Ke­lan­tan and Tereng­ganu while Johor, Kedah and Perak are home to smaller pop­u­la­tions.

De­part­ment of Wildlife and Na­tional Park Bio­di­ver­sity ( Con­ser­va­tion Di­vi­sion) wildlife of­fi­cer Nu­rul Azura Mohd Naim who con­ducts aware­ness pro­grammes on ele­phant con­ser­va­tion in schools in these states, says the re­sponse she gets from kids in these schools is in­ter­est­ing.

“Oddly enough, the first thing they said they would do when they see an ele­phant is to take a we- fie with it,” she laughed.

“How­ever, most of them view this an­i­mal neg­a­tively as it is seen as a de­stroyer of farms and liveli­hood in the vil­lages they come from,” she said, re­fer­ring to hu­man- ele­phant con­flict in these largely ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties lo­cated along for­est fringes.

“More than 50% of the stu­dents we spoke to said that they don’t like ele­phants, but we are glad that at the end of the pro­gramme, we man­aged to bring this down to 6.7%,” she said.

Nu­rul was speak­ing at a dia­logue on ele­phant con­ser­va­tion or­gan­ised by J. C. Ja­cob­sen Foun­da­tion, a char­i­ta­ble arm of Carls­berg Malaysia, to­gether with Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­ment, Technology and De­vel­op­ment Malaysia ( Cet­dem) in mid- Au­gust.

An­other pan­el­list at the dia­logue, Uni­ver­sity of Not­ting­ham Trop­i­cal Con­ser­va­tion Ecol­ogy Lab As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor Ahimsa Cam­pos- Ar­ceiz, said ele­phants are eco­log­i­cally im­por­tant as they move seeds from one part of the for­est to an­other by eat­ing them in one area and defe­cat­ing them in an­other. This is why large fruits like duri­ans and jack­fruits emit a strong smell to at­tract large an­i­mals to eat them.

A fam­ily or herd of ele­phants needs 700 sq km of space to wan­der and for­age for food. That is why the Cen­tral For­est Spine ( CFS) of Penin­su­lar Malaysia is im­por­tant.

The CFS is a pro­posal to link up ma­jor for­est com­plexes with a net­work of eco­log­i­cal or green cor­ri­dors to cre­ate one con­tin­u­ous wildlife sanc­tu­ary. The CFS was tabled jointly by the Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Resources and En­vi­ron­ment ( NRE) and the Min­istry of Hous­ing and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment in 2011 to the Cab­i­net.

“This is a good plan but there seems to be some con­flict be­tween state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments,” said Ahimsa. As forests come un­der state ju­ris­dic­tion, he added that many forests re­serves are be­ing ear­marked for log­ging or re­placed with plan­ta­tions.

The habi­tat of these en­dan­gered an­i­mals is af­fected mostly due to de­for­esta­tion for plan­ta­tions like oil palm – which hap­pen to be very tasty to ele- phants, said Ahimsa. This in turn leads to hu­man- ele­phant con­flict, where plan­ta­tion own­ers in­cur costs and loss of profit.

WWF Penin­su­lar Malaysia Ter­res­trial Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gramme, Tiger Land­scape Lead, Dr Mark Rayan Dar­maraj spoke on the frag­men­ta­tion of forests due to de­vel­op­ment and plan­ta­tion ac­tiv­i­ties. He said it is cru­cial to en­sure that the 37 link­ages along the CFS are pro­tected.

The most im­por­tant link­ages are to con­nect the main pri­or­ity sites be­tween the Belum- Te­meng­gor forests ( north­ern Perak), Ta­man Ne­gara ( shared be­tween Pa­hang, Tereng­ganu and Ke­lan­tan), and the En­dau- Rompin Na­tional Park ( shared be­tween Johor and Pa­hang).

These link­ages are de­signed to form a gate­way that will al­low an­i­mals like the ele­phant to move from one large forested area to an­other.

In ad­di­tion to the frag­men­ta­tion of the ele­phant’s habi­tat, one of the ma­jor threats to these an­i­mals is poach­ing,

namely for their tusks, said Mark.

“Some poach­ers have been de­tected but we need to do mon­i­tor­ing over an ex­ten­sive forested area,” said Mark.

Lack of en­force­ment

Mark said in terms of en­force­ment, there are co­or­di­nated op­er­a­tions and en­force­ment ef­forts by the Wildlife and Na­tional Parks De­part­ment, the Forestry De­part­ment and the army.

“We have ad­e­quate laws and poli­cies in place, but the lack of en­force­ment is where the prob­lem lies,” said Mark. He added there is a con­flict be­tween fed­eral poli­cies and state ju­ris­dic­tion of forested ar­eas.

The num­ber of boots on the ground should be in­creased, he noted, es­pe­cially since there is a large area of for­est to mon­i­tor. Thai­land and In­dia have one ranger for ev­ery 10 sq km; but Malaysia has less than 10% of such “gold stan­dard” pro­tec­tion.

“Without an in­crease in en­force­ment, we will lose a lot of these an­i­mals,” he said.

“It is a ma­jor prob­lem, but not many Malaysians are aware or have em­pa­thy for this cause,” said Mark. “There is a dis­con­nect as this prob­lem does not af­fect ur­ban­ites.”

WWF- Malaysia ( WWF- M) is step­ping up ed­u­ca­tion and en­gag­ing the pub­lic and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, in par­tic­u­lar the orang asli, to be the eyes and ears of en­force­ment agen­cies and re­port any of­fences in­volv­ing wildlife.

Ac­cord­ing to the De­part­ment of Wildlife and Na­tional Parks, the cur­rent pop­u­la­tion of ele­phants in Penin­su­lar Malaysia is about 1,200 to 1,600.

The J. C. Ja­cob­sen foun­da­tion which or­gan­ised the dia­logue aims to in­crease pub­lic aware­ness of ele­phant con­ser­va­tion which it be­lieves is a key com­po­nent to­wards al­le­vi­at­ing hu­man- ele- phant con­flict.

The foun­da­tion ad­vo­cates wildlife con­ser­va­tion, and is the proud adop­tive par­ent to three Pa­hang­born do­mes­ti­cated ele­phants – Siti, Si­bol and Te­ri­ang – at the Na­tional Zoo.

photo: meme

2 A wild ele­phant spot­ted in the Belum- Te­meng­gor for­est of north­ern perak. — mEmE

4 poach­ing threat: An ele­phant skull with a bul­let hole. — photo: WWF­malaysia/ Lau Ching Fong

1 The ele­phant translo­ca­tion pro­gramme helps take them away from con­flict ar­eas where hu­mans have en­croached on their nat­u­ral habi­tat. — ArIs OZIAr

3 An ele­phant found with bul­let wounds. — photo: WWF­malaysia/ Lau Ching Fong

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