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Are elephants’ habitats and food source depleting?

June 20, 2013

FMT LETTER: From S M Mohd Idris, via e-mail

A media report of elephants seen eating rubbish along the Gerik-Jeli Highway is not to be taken lightly as this underlines a serious problem. Something is definitely wrong here.

Is this another case of endangered species being forced into opportunistic eaters because their natural habitat and food are being destroyed? Similarly with orangutans which only enter palm oil plantations to feed on young plants due to hunger and destruction of their natural habitat.

With human population inexorably rising, elephants and humans are increasingly fighting for space. As elephant habitat diminishes, the elephants are pushed into increasingly smaller areas. A serious consequence of the shortage of wild foods is a corresponding increase of crop raiding and incidents of human-elephant conflict.

It is not surprising that wild elephants have started coming to this garbage dump in search of food. While environmentalists are engaged in an ongoing fight to save the wild elephant population in the country, the callous dumping of garbage will add to the dwindling population.

Ingesting plastic bags can kill an elephant just as surely as ingesting plastic bags can kill cattle, sheep, pigs and goats. Ingesting plastic bags is the leading cause of death among street cattle in India.The consumption of rotten food could cause death to elephants through worm or food infection.

The photo showed a whole herd of elephants investigating refuse bags with a young jumbo probably influenced by the example of their elders.

The amount of food in a plastic refuse bag would normally not even be a snack for an elephant, and the bag itself would not be attractive, but if the bag had contained fruit and the elephant could smell peelings or other fruit waste, an elephant might be tempted to investigate. There probably will not be enough food in the bags to inspire a whole herd to go foraging among there themselves.

The dumping of garbage in unsuitable locations in many parts of the country has been a long-standing discussion that has brought little or no results to the problem itself. The public should realise that garbage dumps attract wild elephants from the nearby jungles.

Due to a shortage of food in the jungles elephants roam into other areas in search of food. When these elephants come to a garbage dump they are forced to come into close contact with people and in this case motorists.

If by chance an aggressive elephant crosses the path of a motorist he may attack. Besides straying jumbos may cause traffic accidents. Normally people injured or killed by an elephant fail to see the mistakes they have made, by dumping rubbish on the road and attracting the wild elephants.

Our elephants need extensive land to survive but with the tug of war for territory and resources the outlook for our elephants is bleak. Saving the elephants would not be possible without support from the highest levels of the Federal and State governments.

The writer is president of Sahabat Alam Malaysia


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