Environment

Damages reduced up to 90 per cent after plantation lands spared for wildlife corridor

TAWAU: Before a Tawau-based plantation decided to establish a 1,067 hectare of wildlife corridor in 2012, the company incurred an average of half a million ringgit of damages caused by elephants.

After four years, Sabah Softwoods Berhad allocated another 80 hectares of land for connectivity through an area newly developed for oil palm.

In addition to the wildlife corridor, SSB also adopted a strategic land use plan to minimise crop damage by realigning electric fences around vulnerable young palm trees and community settlements to keep these areas safe, whilst allowing elephants to access their tree plantation areas and mature palm tree areas where damage is minimal.

These conservation measures, which embrace elephant movement within plantations rather than getting rid of it, bore fruit for SSB. 

The company saw a drop of more than 90 per cent losses now, with just about RM5,000 annually starting in 2018.

An elephant would eat 150 kilogrammes of vegetation every day.

According to a statement by WWF-Malaysia, on average, a single adult elephant would eat 150kg of vegetation a day. 

“A herd of elephants is made up of anywhere between 15 to 30 individuals – resulting in a demand between 2,000 to 4,500 kg of sustenance on a daily basis. 

“With most of the forest landscape in Sabah fragmented into pockets and the planting of oil palm adjacent to forests, this crop is an attractive food option and an easy target for elephants as the favoured young palm shoots would supplement their diets considerably,” says the NGO conservation director Dr Henry Chan.

He says that the lasting solution to the situation is the need for tolerance – we need to share our space with our fellow Sabahan, the Bornean elephants.

“For plantation owners, especially those located adjacent to forests, what this means is to set aside a part of their land for connectivity or as a wildlife corridor. 

“This corridor will function to connect forest patches and improve habitats for plants and animals. To put it plainly, we have to accept that Bornean elephants will continue to travel through plantations and that making way for this movement will reduce losses to businesses and at the same time guarantee a safe passage for the gentle giants. A win-win situation for all.”

More conservation efforts to protect Sabah elephants

In 2014, WWF-Malaysia started collaring elephants in the plantation and have since had a better understanding of the movement patterns of five elephants. This crucial data is used to guide land use plans, and the placement of electric-fences as well as to assist the company to plan their operations around elephant movements for safety measures.

In 2016, a human-elephant conflict working group was set up to ensure that joint mitigation measures can be developed and implemented for the whole landscape. These efforts are expected to reduce crop damages over the long-term and encourage coexistence between the plantation owners and elephants.

At present, there are less than 2,000 Bornean elephants left in Sabah. What this means for us is that there is very little room for error when it comes to our actions to protect these megafaunas. One small misstep and we might just see the elephants go extinct in our lifetime.

“One of Covid-19’s biggest lessons for us is that we, as humans, are resilient and adaptable. We have learned to adjust to a new norm and slowly but surely, we will learn to thrive in it. 

“Perhaps, as we alter our way of life to live with this virus, we can also adjust to living in coexistence with the elephants.”

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