With so many threats stacked up against them, the future of some 1,500 Bornean elephants that are left in the forests of Sabah remains uncertain.
Every year, a significant number of Bornean elephants are found dead – be it due to retaliatory killing due to human-elephant conflict, suspected chronic poisoning, natural causes, disease, and poaching.
“Every year, these deaths spark outrage, with many calling for harsh penalties against the perpetrators. Yet, every year, elephant deaths still occur.
“The unfortunate reality is that whether we acknowledge it or not, each elephant death contributes to the decline of the elephant population in Sabah.
“If we continue to rest on our laurels and operate on a business as usual model, it is a possibility that sometime soon in the future, we will be able to count the number of remaining Bornean elephants on the fingers of our hands.
“There is a precedent in this. We only need to remember Iman, our very last Sumatran rhino.” said WWF-Malaysia in a statement in conjunction with World Elephant Day on Aug 12.
To ensure Bornean elephant population is secured and safe from traveling down the road to extinction, all need to operate on a paradigm shift – one that shares the responsibility of protecting the elephants equally among all.
In this model, everyone – be it the government, corporate companies and civil society – has an equal role to play.
“This equal sharing of responsibility is reflected in WWF-Malaysia’s Living Landscapes approach, where its pillars of Protect, Produce and Restore seeks to combine conservation and sustainable development via the protection of forests, wildlife and rivers, the production of RSPO-certified oil palm, and the restoration of ecological corridors and riparian reserves.
“Taking on the living landscapes approach can be key to ensuring the survival of elephant populations in Sabah.”
Government plays its part, endorsed 10-year Action Plan
As for the government, it has worked together with various NGOs including WWF-Malaysia through the Elephant Task Force to develop strategies to address the deaths of the elephants.
The state-wide 10-year Bornean Elephant Action Plan (2020-2029) endorsed by the state government in 2020 provides direction to protect and conserve the species which is endemic to the island.
Amongst others, the action plan details strategies that focus on strengthening the protection of elephants from killings, enhancing habitat connectivity, ensuring best practices in managing elephants as well as research, monitoring and predicting elephant population trends.
Additionally, an Endangered Species Conservation Unit will also be established by the Sabah Wildlife Department to monitor the implementation of all species action plans, including Bornean elephants.
Corporate and plantations can do more..
Corporate companies and plantations should also play its part.
Larger plantations should consider implementing pre-emptive long-term mitigation plans by incorporating elephant requirements into land use plans and working together with neighbouring plantations to develop joint solutions.
These plans include the establishment of wider riparian buffers and the placement of integrated electric-fences at the landscape level so that these fences do not hamper the movement of elephants to access larger forest patches.
Additionally, plantation owners can consider allowing elephants into certain parts of their land such as mature palm tree areas where damages are minimal and fencing off other vulnerable areas (young palm trees and settlements).
For its part, the government through the Sabah Forestry Department and Sabah Wildlife Department as well as NGOs like WWF-Malaysia will be able to support corporate companies by providing the necessary technical recommendations.
Furthermore, plantation owners should consider adopting more sustainable agricultural practices such as proper application, storage and disposal of chemicals.
With the increase in the number of elephant poaching incidents in recent years, plantation owners also can contribute in reducing these poaching incidences.
In particular, plantations located adjacent to forest boundaries should report any suspicious activities or any elephants injured in their area to the Sabah Forestry Department or the Sabah Wildlife Department.
Although we can see more plantation companies stepping up and allocating resources to conserve elephants, much more needs to be done.
Smallholders and local communities living within elephant ranges also have a role to play. They can inform the nearest Sabah Wildlife Department office of incidents where elephants are potentially endangering their life or crops and property.
In the event where the SWD is unable to attend immediately to the request, smallholders and local communities, with proper training from SWD, can also work together to form crop protection teams to try and protect their crops but within reason and with their own safety always as a priority.
Highlight plight of elephants.
As for the rest of us, our role is equally important. It is our responsibility to be aware and share about the plight of Bornean elephants, the threats that they face and the small but significant things we can do to protect them. It is our responsibility to support the purchase of certified products.
These products are sourced from forests and oil palm plantations that adhere to sustainable practices.
Ultimately, we are also responsible for ensuring that other people around us understand the importance of protecting the Bornean elephants too.
This World Elephant Day, let us celebrate the gentle giants by changing the way we operate and accepting the responsibility that we all have in ensuring the continued survival of the Bornean elephants.