Rare Borneo elephant dies in Sabah

Sapa was found last month with snare trap wounds in Lahad and taken in by the Sabah Wildlife Department. — Picture courtesy of the Sabah Wildlife Department
Sapa was found last month with snare trap wounds in Lahad and taken in by the Sabah Wildlife Department. — Picture courtesy of the Sabah Wildlife Department

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KOTA KINABALU, July 12 — Another rare Borneo pygmy elephant has died in captivity in Sabah, less than two weeks after two elephants perished at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park last month.

Sapa — a “sub-adult” male elephant approximately 20 years old which was rescued after it was caught in snares last month — died yesterday at the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary in Kinabatangan under the care of the Sabah Wildlife Department.

“It was expected to be released back to the forest after a full recovery from the injury. The injury was almost healed while undergoing treatment by WRU veterinary officer at the sanctuary.

“However, Sapa was found collapsed yesterday morning despite not showing any symptoms of illness the day before. It was seen very active and having good appetite on Tuesday afternoon,” said department spokesperson Nurain Ampuan Acheh.

“Sabah Wildlife Department’s veterinarian initiated treatment with fluids, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory today. Sadly, Sapa died around 4pm yesterday despite all the treatment Sapa was receiving,” she added.

Sapa, named after Sapagaya waterfall in Lahad Datu, where it was found, had ropes tied around its front limbs, with one of them cutting in deep.

A post mortem report obtained said that its death was due to multiple organ dysfunction, with septicemia likely due to bacterial infection from its wound.

“He had a hypostatic congestion on the left lung due to prolonged recumbency on left lateral side, a congested heart, congested liver and mild hepatomegaly, petechial haemorrhage spleen, pale kidney, a normal stomach and intestinal content with inflammation of intestinal mucosa,” said Nurain.

The latest elephant death is the 17th this year in the state, and the third in captivity over a span of two months.

Six more also died in the wild between April and May, due to an unknown “disease”.

The Sabah Wildlife Department is currently under scrutiny following reports of an ill-managed wildlife park where rehabilitated animals are kept, including 16 elephants, of which two — a 15-year-old and a three-year-old calf — recently died.

Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Christina Liew said there was no conclusive cause of death except that the animals were sick and “not expected to live long”.

Sabah’s endemic elephant population has been dwindling. There are an estimated 1,500 Borneo Pygmy elephants left in the wild.

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