By SM MOHD IDRIS
COMMENT: Frequent reports of orphaned Bornean elephants being rescued by the Sabah Wildlife department surfaces every now and then. These baby elephants have become lost while their mothers are nowhere to be seen. Elephants rescued numbered 22 for the past seven years, but many cannot survive with a mortality rate of 50 per cent.
All signs point to assaults on the elephants’ habitats, painting a dismal picture of the future of the elephants in Sabah. Rapid shrinkage of forest cover and large-scale encroachment on elephant corridors are the main factors behind this escalating problem.
The last decade has seen appalling destruction of forests, something that is having a direct fallout in the form of the growing elephant depredations and the resultant number of orphans. Elephants may soon disappear because of habitat destruction and fragmentation by plantation agencies, palm oil developers and logging industries.
When elephants come into conflict with man it is a battle in which the gentle animals are destined to lose. While those responsible for land clearance are highly aware of elephants coming into conflict and the subsequent fatalities that may arise, the problem has now rendered the elephant a most despicable enemy for them, and a dispassionate analysis of the situation will expose the humans as being solely responsible for the sorry situation.
Workers may have resorted to poisoning, killing and poaching while the exact reasons behind the increasing elephant orphans could not be exactly established. Driven out of their natural habitat by human-induced factors, elephants often fall prey to all sorts of accidents.
Conservationists have repeatedly pointed out that the elephants have been compelled to come out into the open because of shrinking habitats. The once pristine forests, which are home to a large number of elephants along with other flora and fauna are now being destroyed and degraded by human activities along with population growth, biting badly into the elephants’ refuge.
Indeed the solution to the seemingly unsolvable man-elephant conflict lies in rectifying and undoing the wrongs of the past decades. Those responsible for taking away the habitats of the elephants have to admit their mistakes, accept their faults and make a sincere resolve to dedicate the best of their efforts and resources with selfless commitment towards ensuring long term management.
Measures that can be taken for long term management are to consolidate existing good habitats and manage the elephants falling outside the demarcated good habitats. One approach is to demarcate good habitats as ‘elephant reserves’ while another is to secure elephant corridors between these good habitats.
But given the rapid ravages of the land by plantation agencies the question to ponder is: is there any space left for the Bornean elephants?
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) calls on the oil palm industry and other land agencies to rectify the situation rather than pay lip service to rehabilitation efforts.
Moreover oil palm plantation companies should create and run the appropriate protection system of conservation in their concession areas, and assist the Sabah Wildlife to arrest their workers convicted of poisoning or killing elephants.
The best way to address this in the short term is through better law enforcement to show that Sabah’s wildlife laws are being taken seriously. The government and the wildlife authorities should focus their law enforcement initiatives on where the deforestation are.
Such initiatives need to be scaled up. The absence of law enforcement will only make the crimes and brutality to the elephants continue with increasing number of deaths and orphaned elephants.
The right to life and the right for living space are not privileges exclusive to human beings, and space should be secured for elephants and people to live in perpetuity.
- SM Mohd Idris is President, Sahabat Alam Malaysia