FIX­TURE

Malaysian elephant sanc­tu­ary trum­pets ef­fort to cut hu­man-an­i­mal con­flict

Northern Living - - CONTENTS - TEXT M. JEGATHESAN | AFP PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MANAN VATSYAYANA | AFP

Rec­on­cil­ing ele­phants and hu­mans in Malaysia

A herd of ele­phants tramps through the jun­gle be­fore lum­ber­ing into a river un­der the watch­ful gaze of their keepers, train­ing at a Malaysian sanc­tu­ary for their vi­tal work in re­duc­ing hu­man-an­i­mal con­flict.

The sanc­tu­ary in Kuala Gan­dah, Cen­tral Malaysia, is an area of se­cluded rain­for­est where ‘ma­houts’—as the keepers are known—care for a 26-strong group of en­dan­gered Asian ele­phants.

A hand­ful were res­cued af­ter suf­fer­ing in­juries or be­ing or­phaned, but most of them have been do­mes­ti­cated and trained to aid the Na­tional Elephant Con­ser­va­tion Cen­tre’s ef­fort to help ele­phants who be­come em­broiled in con­flicts with hu­mans.

They ac­com­pany a highly trained team on their mis­sions to find and sub­due fel­low pachy­derms whose habi­tats have been en­croached on, and are putting them­selves and vil­lagers at risk.

Since the cen­ter started op­er­a­tions about 30 years ago, its staff has re­lo­cated more than 700 wild ele­phants, tak­ing them away from in­hab­ited ar­eas and deep into the jun­gle.

Malaysia is home to vast tracts of rain­for­est and a kalei­do­scope of ex­otic wildlife, from ele­phants to orangutans and tigers, but the num­bers of many rare species have fallen dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent decades.

Some have been hunted for their body parts that are then sold on the black mar­ket, but a grow­ing num­ber are falling vic­tim to hu­man-an­i­mal con­flict—which hap­pens when rapid ex­pan­sion of plan­ta­tions or de­vel­op­ment of set­tle­ments en­croaches on an­i­mals’ nat­u­ral habi­tats.

Many ele­phants in Malaysia have been in­jured or killed af­ter com­ing into con­tact with hu­mans when they wan­der onto the coun­try’s ubiq­ui­tous palm oil plan­ta­tions, or en­ter set­tle­ments and eat crops.

Vil­lagers and plan­ta­tion work­ers some­times tar­get them, view­ing them as pests and not re­al­iz­ing they are en­dan­gered and pro­tected by law.

One elephant among the herd at the 12-hectare sanc­tu­ary, Se­len­dang, lost part of its leg af­ter it was caught in a snare trap, and has been fit­ted with a pros­thetic limb.

On a re­cent visit to the cen­ter, a dozen of the resident ele­phants marched in sin­gle file with their trunks swing­ing as their ma­houts put them through the paces dur­ing a morn­ing work­out.

They emit­ted trum­pet­ing sounds be­fore splash­ing into a river, where the ma­houts scrubbed their bel­lies and trunks.

There are be­lieved to be some 1,200 wild Asian ele­phants in penin­su­lar Malaysia, down from as many as 1,700 in 2011.

“If their re­main­ing habi­tat faces rapid de­for­esta­tion, I think be­fore the end of the cen­tury, there will be no more wild ele­phants left,” warned Ahimsa Cam­pos-Ar­ceiz, a Malaysia-based elephant ex­pert. —AFP

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