Conservation measures to protect Sabah elephants
Several conservation measures were recommended to enable the future viability of Bornean elephants in Sabah at an international workshop held at Shangri La’s Rasa Ria Resort last month. Issues such as human-elephant conflict, elephant management, habitat management, research and education, fund raising and tourism were discussed and priority actions were set. First, the conference identified four major elephant areas and urged their declaration as ‘managed elephant ranges’: Lower Kinabatangan, Tabin, Deramakot-Sebuku, Ulu Kalumpang. These four elephant ranges should ideally be maintained under natural forest management and all necessary measures to re-establish connectivity within and between these ranges need to be investigated. Other major recommendations included the establishment of a Borneo Elephant Conservation Alliance (BECA) to encourage collaboration and communication among all stakeholders involved in elephant management in Sabah. This alliance will help coordinate fundraising, conservation, research, education and information sharing; produce urgent basic biological information on the Bornean elephant to better understand the dynamics and the ecology of this species in Sabah; decide for and implement a moratorium on new oil palm development within 500m on both sides of the Kinabatangan River and include all State lands covered with forest and adjacent to the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS) into the LKWS, more attention to be given to the problem of elephant crop raiding and conflict mitigation; and create a management committee for Responsible Elephant Tourism(RET), chaired by the State Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment.As stated by Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun at the closing ceremony on May 23, “Time is running out fast and there are not many animals left in the wild. If we do not do something urgently I think we are going to lose these animals. This wildlife, as part of the State natural heritage, is the very reason why people come to Sabah. We need to protect wildlife and its natural habitat!” The workshop was hosted by the State Government and co-organised by the Sabah Wildlife Department, Cardiff University, the NGO HUTAN, Universiti Malaysia Sabah and WWF-Malaysia. Funding was provided by the Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species (UK), the US Fish and Wildlife Service Asian Elephant Conservation Fund (USA), Borneo Conservation Trust (Sabah) and Rasa Ria Resort itself. Around 150 participants from around the globe attended the workshop, including elephant experts from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Gabon in central Africa, UK and USA. The aims of the workshop were to present the results of the works carried out during the last eight years and to discuss the results with all stakeholders involved in the conservation and the management of elephants in Sabah. The objectives were to provide a forum for presenting and discussing the results of ongoing studies about the Bornean elephant ecology, its distribution, movement and habitat use, the population genetics, and human-elephant conflicts; to provide sound management recommendations for securing elephants’ long-term survival in Sabah; and to produce a resolution endorsed by all workshop participants and to be tabled before the Sabah State Government in the near future. The workshop was opened by Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Bolkiah Haji Ismail and closed by Masidi, to whom the resolution was presented.