Human-elephant conflict: Local community plays crucial role in conservation

Human-elephant conflict: Local community plays crucial role in conservation

KOTA KINABALU: The local community plays a very important role in elephant conservation in Sabah as they are the ones who often have to deal with the presence of the wildlife, said Seratu Aatai Project director Dr Nurzhafarina Othman.

She said if the local people are willing to be tolerant, then the chance for Borneo elephants to survive in Sabah would be greater.

“I believe that our society has knowledge on how to live in harmony with nature. This includes the ability to understand the trend in elephant movement and behavior,” she told Bernama.

Nurzhafarina said elephants are animals that belong to the umbrella species and if their habitat can be saved, then many other animal species can also be saved.

She said there are three elephant populations in Sabah, each in Kinabatangan, Tabin in Lahad Datu and in the forest reserve area in central Sabah, with about 1,500 elephants recorded so far.

Nurzhafarina said Seratu Aatai outlined four key focus areas to be addressed holistically in the conservation of Borneo elephants, including promoting the co-existence of humans and wildlife by understanding the cause of their conflict and studying effective ways to reduce the conflict.

She said Seratu Aatai is also consistent in strengthening the capability and awareness of the local community on the importance of living in harmony with elephants through education.

“We are also trying to improve elephant protection by supporting and developing a group of elephant rangers within the community as well as supporting the Honorary Wildlife Warden programme,” she said, adding that Seratu Aatai also conducted a scientific study to understand how to build an elephant-friendly landscape, especially outside protected areas.

Nevertheless, she said, the role of the local community is still very much needed, especially to become the eyes and ears for the authorities on activities carried out by irresponsible quarters, like poaching.

This is to enable the authorities to curb the illegal activities and take strict action against illegal hunters, she added.

On the brutal killing of a pygmy elephant in Kalabakan, Tawau, Nurzhafarina said a severe penalty should be imposed on the persons responsible as a lesson to others, as such act threatened the elephant population.

“If we continue to be complacent and the punishment imposed is minimal, I fear that some quarters will not hesitate to continue with their illegal hunting activities,” she said.

A Pygmy elephant was recently found dead, upstream of Sungai Udin, Dumpas, Kalabakan, Tawau , and the post-mortem result on the pachyderm found more than 70 holes, believed from gunshot, in its body, legs and head.

Swift action by the police and the Sabah Wildlife Department, in launching “Ops Khazanah” led to the arrest of five locals and an illegal immigrant, along with five firearms, 59 rounds of live ammunition, 53 bullet shells and elephant tusks.

Meanwhile, the issue on human-elephant conflict in Sabah also attracted the attention of non-governmental organisations and management of oil palm plantations in Tawau, where they have come forwards with suggestions on getting a comprehensive resolution in resolving the conflict.

They included suggestion by the chairman of Persatuan Bebika Pencinta Alam Tawau,  J Hamzah Ahmad, for the state government to work closely with private companies, such as  Sabah Softwood Berhad (SSB), to create more green food supply corridors for elephants and other wildlife in Sabah.

He said the effort by SSB had given positive impact on the conservation of wildlife in Sabah.

SBB is the first company in Tawau to build a 1,000-hectare wildlife corridor, located between Ulu Segama and Ulu Kalumpang, which serves as a daily route for 50 to 60 elephants in their search for food.

As for Felda Plantation director Izham Mustaffa, he said discussion will be held with the Sabah Wildlife Department on a proposal to set up an elephant conservation area in Kalabakan, Tawau, like the ones in Pahang and Perak to prevent the pachyderm from continuing to become a threat to the oil palm plantation at Felda Umas.

It is learnt that there are more than 40 adult elephants in the Felda Umas plantation area, he said.