New survey to come, in bid to save Sabah’s pygmy elephants

The number of Borneo pygmy elephants in the wild is currently estimated at 1,500. (Bernama pic)

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) says a new population survey of Borneo pygmy elephants in the state will be carried out next year.

SWD assistant director Sen Nathan, who also leads the department’s wildlife rescue unit, agreed that the population figure of 2,040 elephants from the 2006 census was outdated and in need of revision.

“SWD will be doing a statewide survey for pygmy elephants and orangutans for 24 months ending 2022. RM1.5 million has been confirmed for this programme.

Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Sen Nathan.

“The department will be spearheading it and will cover all protected and unprotected areas… this study will cover areas which were not surveyed before,” he told FMT.

The survey will be funded by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council. The stakeholders involved include the state forestry department, WWF and the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme.

Yesterday, elephant expert Nurzhafarina Othman urged the Sabah government to conduct a fresh survey to determine the population of pygmy elephants in the state.

Nurzhafarina, the founder of NGO Projek Seratu Aatai, said the published estimate of 2,040 elephants was out of date, adding that the recent spate of deaths had made a new survey urgent.

Last Sunday, the carcass of a pygmy elephant was found floating in the Kinabatangan river. SWD director Augustine Tuuga confirmed that foul play was involved, saying the toes on the animal’s front feet had been cut off.

It was the third reported death of a pygmy elephant in five weeks. In the first incident, occurring on Sept 23 in Kalabakan, Tawau, a bull elephant was found with over 70 bullet holes in its body.

A month later, an elephant was found dead in an oil palm plantation in Beluran. Its tusks had been sawn off.

Citing reports from WWF, Sen said the number of elephants in the wild stood at about 1,500 now.

“It’s timely and critical that this survey be carried out. We know that from 2010-2019, some 145 elephants died. Bear in mind, these are only the numbers that we know of,” he added.

He said the survey would not be restricted to finding out the population.

“We are also going to look into human-elephant conflict issues and how best to manage it,” he said.