KOTA KINABALU: Oil palm plantations are losing millions from damaged crops, sometimes spanning 30 hectares in total, when elephant herds raid the area, says the Sabah Wildlife Department.
Its director Augustine Tuuga told FMT that smallholders were hit the hardest as they could sometimes lose up to six hectares of crops in just one night.
“Elephant raids are a major problem for plantations in areas where elephants are found.
“These herds damage oil palm trees and eat the shoots, causing the companies to incur big losses,” he said, adding that Sabah Softwood Bhd for example, reported a loss of RM3 million a few years back.
He said that the problem of elephant raids had become so dire that most of the department’s ground staff were in Kg Gambaron in Telupid to deal with the issue, bringing to a virtual standstill, investigations into the recent case of suspected poaching in Kinabatangan.
The department estimated that there were only 2,000 Borneo pygmy elephants left in Sabah and although the number was considered acceptable to many, Tuuga said he was cautious about their survival rates if poaching continued unabated.
He conceded that most of the elephant poachers were locals, who killed the endangered animals mainly for their tusks.
“We found that these tusks were sold overseas but many also sold them to the Timorese who have a custom of offering elephant tusks as dowries.”
On Thursday, the department released a statement that it was investigating suspected poaching activities after an elephant carcass was found floating in the Kinabatangan River near Sg Koyah on Monday.
The carcass was found by a tourist guide, who was with a group of four foreign tourists on a river cruise in the area.
The elephant carcass was later brought to land where a post mortem was conducted by the department’s veterinary officer.
In the statement, Tuuga said the elephant had been identified as a male, estimated around 15-20 years old, and believed to have died or been killed three days earlier.
Initial examinations found that both tusks were missing with evidence of a clean cut at the area. The elephant’s left hind limb was also missing with signs of a clean cut with a sharp object. Part of the skin of the left side of the body had also been removed with a sharp object.
“The post mortem did not find any evidence of a gun shot wound on the body. Although no evidence has been gathered so far, and in the absence of a gun shot wound on the body, it is likely that the animal was caught in a snare trap that eventually caused it to die of exhaustion,” he said.
The department is focusing its investigation on determining the most likely location in which the elephant died or had been killed upstream of the Kinabatangan River in which the carcass was thrown into.
This latest killing is the sixth reported pygmy elephant death in Sabah this year including the death of a sabre-tusked bull called Sabre in January, just three months after it was collared by the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU).
Apart from poachers, many suspect the elephants were killed by farm workers or plantation owners incensed by the damage caused to their crops.
In a separate development, Tuuga said the department was still trying to track down suspects in the turtle poaching case of Bum Bum Island.
He explained that despite evidence that the activity had been going on for quite some time, the department only became aware of it from information they obtained on Facebook.
“We do not have an office or boat in Semporna and we only investigated the case because of the viral photo. We held our World Turtle Day celebration in Bum Bum in May this year to create awareness among the community there on the importance of conserving turtles.
“In a way, I think it was quite effective because otherwise, they would have just kept quiet and not shared their concerns on social media,” he said.