PETALING JAYA: Translocating elephants away from human settlements does not really work, say wildlife researchers.
This was the result of their study tracing the movements of 48 elephants mounted with global positioning system (GPS) trackers in Peninsular Malaysia. They included 32, which had been relocated to other jungles.
The researchers said these elephants would always find their way back to other settlements near their new sites, thus prolonging the human-elephant conflict.
Translocating elephants has been going on in this country since 1974, with wildlife researchers claiming that some 600 elephants, roughly 40% of the current population, had been translocated.
A study published in the Animal Conservation Journal on Feb 10 by a team of international scientists who monitored the movements of the GPS-tracked elephants in Peninsular Malaysia found that elephants actually prefer to be in open, human-dominated agricultural landscapes rather than closed-canopy primary forests.
The study said translocating elephants to forests in protected areas is likely to fail since elephants will inevitably move back toward the “prime” habitat on forest fringes, where human settlements or new farms are located.
In addition, these translocated elephants seem to become disoriented after their relocation, causing even more problems.
These scientists warned that this may result in the elephants marching towards their own extinction as a result.
Sri Lanka’s Centre for Conservation and Research’s researchers Prithiviraj Fernando and Jennifer Pastorini called for conflict mitigation strategies to move away from prioritising short-term measures like translocation. Their commentary was published in the Animal Conservation Journal on Oct 26.
They said female elephants formed a quarter of those translocated.
“These females live in close-knit family groups. So translocated females and the groups from which they are removed are likely to experience severe stress and social disruption,” they wrote in the commentary, which was quoted by Mongabay.com, which champions environmental issues.
Researchers Lydia Tiller and Harry Williams, from the non-profit organisation Save the Elephants, said short-term solutions like translocation simply treated the symptoms, not the underlying causes of human-elephant conflicts, such as habitat loss and land-use changes.
They said the translocation strategy just moved the problem elsewhere.
“Effective management of human-elephant conflicts should instead focus on promoting tolerance of elephants,” they said.
Elephants have been known to raid crops, damage property and retaliate against hostile human interactions, leading to injuries and deaths on both sides.