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KOTA KINABALU, Sept 6 — Elephant relocation proves to be a logistical nightmare that eats up the Wildlife Rescue Unit’s limited resources like no other task.
In the latest episode of Borneo Wildlife Warriors, a web series that charts the challenges faced by a group of elite wildlife veterinarians and rangers, the team are still struggling with one raging bull elephant that seems determined to remain elusive and had strayed into a palm oil plantation.
First, part of the team that is rookie ranger and TV presenter Aaron “Bertie” Gekoski is now lost, a dangerous prospect given the lack of supplies and directions and experience to help themselves out of the quandary.
Second, they need to figure out how they are going to capture the gigantic mammal and transport it across the district to safer grounds where they are less likely to run into humans.
Senior ranger Hasni Koungin said that one has to be experienced with the surrounding environment and the task at hand to be able to evaluate the situation and prepare for the operations. Each operation is different depending on the size of the herd, behaviour of the animal and topography of the area.
Sabah now has only a mere fraction of the forest compared to before, and as a result, elephants are now regularly found wandering nearby areas used by humans, and can cause a lot of destruction in a short space of time.
This has put them in the firing line of villagers and workers, with elephants being shot and poisoned. It is critical for their survival that the WRU relocates them back into the jungle out of harm’s way.
But elephant relocations is the single largest, most expensive and resource-intensive task that the WRU undertakes. It estimates to have arranged some 250 relocations since it first began operations some seven years ago.
“The hardest part is the capture — transferring the animal into the translocation crate up until the release. We always need to think about the safety of the whole team,” said another ranger Donysius Thomas.
During the search and darting process, Gekoski and wildlife veterinarian Dr Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam became separated from the rangers and they had to hustle in the 10 hours they were alone with no food or water left.
But eventually they were found, and soon had to deal with the very dangerous process of tranquilising the elephant and waiting for it to awake and leading it to the lorry.
“We use strong machinery to produce a strong pulling force that guides the elephant to walk into the transport cage. Things can go wrong at any minute and this requires good coordination and communication of the rangers and the vets. Everyone has a part to play,” said Gekoski.
The truck carries a specially designed cage that enables the WRU to safely transport the elephant to a carefully selected nature reserve selected by the wildlife district officers.
“We have to consider the existing elephant population in the area, location of forest reserve with surrounding human development, size of the forest reserve and previous success with the site.
“The WRU has had to relocate some elephants as many as five times as they frequently find their way back into the conflict area”, said Pakee.
“Relocation successes are, I would say, 50 per cent as relocation is not a long-term management for the human-elephant conflict, and what with ever decreasing habitats, there are fewer and fewer sites to choose from,” he said.
Watch episode four of the Borneo Wildlife Warriors to find out how the team went with the bull elephant.
New episodes of Borneo Wildlife Warriors are released every Wednesday on SZtv’s website, YouTube and Facebook. This six-part series reaches its climax in the coming weeks so stay tuned.
All episodes have Bahasa Malaysia subtitles and will also be aired on Malay Mail Online.
For more information, check out Borneo Wildlife Warriors on SZtv.