|One of the two collared elephants known as Bikang 1. After her release, Bikang 1 started a long trek of more than 100 km deep into the Tabin Wildlife Reserve forest.|
While the shocking death of 14 Borneo Pygmy Elephants was still fresh in the people's memory, the rescue of ten others in Lahad Datu provided some relief.
The ten elephants were rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department between 18th and the 25th of January, when it became known that they had ventured more than 45 km from their original habitat at the Tabin Managed Elephant Range and to an area a mere 10 km away from Lahad Datu town.
"We received a call from a man from Sri Tungku Simpang Ladang Permai, near Lahad Datu, complaining that elephants were roaming near his house," explained Jibius Dausip, senior officer from the Wildlife Rescue Unit.
A team was dispatched to the location where they found a herd of ten elephants - 9 female of various ages and one young male of about 4 years old. Jibius confirmed that the group was most likely a family group.
Wildlife veterinarian from the Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) and the Danau Girang Field Centre, Dr Diana Ramirez said that all 9 female elephants have been herded back to Tabin Wildlife Reserve. She added that two of the biggest females in the group were fitted with satellite collars provided by the Danau Girang Field Centre.
One of the elephants, a young male had a bad injury on its trunk and was transferred to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park where it receives treatment.
Ramirez explained that without captive intervention, the injured elephant had a slim chance of survival in the wild.
The translocation of the elephants had to be done in stages as releasing them in one go would pose logistical problems.
Senior Wildlife Officer and WRU Manager Dr. Senthilvel Nathan disclosed that his team is currently studying the possibility of releasing future translocated herds together to prevent the herd from separating.
"That might cost more and it would be logistically more challenging because we would need to set up a pre-release holding area and renting more transporting lorries. But our main concern is the elephants' welfare and keeping the group dynamic intact," he said.
Director of Danau Girang Field Centre Dr Benoit Goossens explained that extensive agriculture through plantations such as palm oil has considerably reduced the habitat of the elephant and other wildlife in Sabah. This has led to an increase in human-elephant conflicts.
"The recent deaths of 14 elephants are most likely a result of human-elephant conflict in elephant ranges and there is an obvious need to better manage the landscape within and around the plantations by providing routes for wildlife to move from one forest to another," added Goossens.
According to Goossens, after one month of satellite monitoring, the two collared female elephants have roamed in the reserve and have not yet ventured into plantations around Tabin.
"If they ever return to the vicinity of Lahad Datu, we will be able to analyse their migratory pattern and advise the plantation owners how to fence their land to avoid any more intrusion," he said.
Elephant translocation is part of a long-term programme that the Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre launched last year to tackle human-elephant conflicts in agricultural plantations such as palm oil.
Funding is currently provided by The Asian Elephant Foundation and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.
The Danau Girang Field Centre is a collaborative project between the Sabah Wildlife Department and Cardiff University.
Source: Insight Sabah