The elephantine task of capturing and relocating Sabah’s elephants (VIDEO)

Aaron ‘Bertie’ Gekoski gets to get up close and personal with Jo, a baby Borneo elephant. — Photo courtesy of Scubazoo
Aaron ‘Bertie’ Gekoski gets to get up close and personal with Jo, a baby Borneo elephant. — Photo courtesy of Scubazoo

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KOTA KINABALU, Aug 30 — Tracking and relocating an elephant may seem like just another day in the life of a Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) ranger but for rookie Aaron “Bertie” Gekoski, it is a mammoth task that he is about to share with the world.

Gekoski, a photo journalist-cum-TV presenter of Borneo Wildlife Warriors will show the trials and tribulations Sabah rangers have to go through in any of their increasingly many elephant rescue and relocation missions, in a vast palm oil plantation in the remote southern part of the state.

The team has to first track, then capture and relocate a full-grown bull elephant, which sounds a lot easier than it actually is.

WRU acting head Diana Ramirez has been involved in many of these field missions throughout her time here, and said that more and more conflicts are emerging.

“Elephants are well known as a nomad species and some herds have been passing their route down from generation to generation, but now that the landscape used by elephants has changed due to land conversion for human development, we encounter what we know as human-elephant conflicts,” Ramirez said.

Elephant relocation is one of the flagship duties the WRU undertake. As habitats are placed under ever-greater pressure by humans, elephants are seen in greater frequencies: wandering farmland, timber camps, rub-ber and oil palm plantations; even straying close to villages in their insatia-ble search for food.

“Since its creation in 2010, the WRU has rescued and translocated more than 250 elephants throughout Sabah. As long as the usual elephant habitat continues to shrink and becomes fragmented this will contribute to increasing human-elephant conflicts.

“There is no easy part to an elephant relocation. When the call comes in that one has been sighted, the team has to assemble its materials and drive to the location; the travel itself can take a day,” she said.

Getting to the site, however, is straightforward compared to getting to the elephant itself. As Gekoski discovered, tracking an elephant through Borneo’s hilly uplands takes navigation to a whole new level.

“It’s an involved process that utilises all of your senses. You learn what an elephant smells like, the sounds they make, the visual markings they leave on trees, roughly how old their dung is, what direction they’re moving due to their footprints— the WRU’s rangers have been doing this for many years,” he said.

It takes years of experience to follow an overstimulated, hungry, frightened elephant through the forest. WRU Ranger Hasni Koungin is well acquainted with the challenges.

“After receiving the report from workers and villagers, we have to go from where the last sight of the elephants was, to start following the tracks,” Hsani said.

Each operation is different depending on the size of the herd, attitude of the animal and topography of the area, but our target is the same: to sedate and move the elephant to a new location where they can be safe.

The initial search took several days; remarkably, at one point the team was within a shot of the elephant, only for it to turn tail and disappear into the bushes.

New episodes of Borneo Wildlife Warriors are released every Wednesday on SZtv's website, YouTube and Facebook. All episodes have Bahasa Malaysia subtitles and will also be aired on Malay Mail Online and Daily Express.

For more information, check out Borneo Wildlife Warriors on SZtv.

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