KOTA KINABALU, Aug 30 — Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal has ordered fresh initiatives to put an end to the unprecedented number of elephant deaths in the state recently.
Pointing out that he was “shocked and stunned” by the deaths, Shafie said action should include “all-out effort” by the relevant agencies to engage locals in human-elephant conflict zones and educate them on tackling wildlife intrusion with conservation in mind.
“I am indeed disturbed by the sudden spike in Bornean elephant deaths in Sabah,” he said in a statement.
“I have ordered two state ministers — Tourism, Culture, Environment Minister Christina Liew Agriculture and Food Industry Minister Junz Wong — to hold special meetings with plantation owners in known elephant habitats so they can engage their workers to help with the fight against poaching and killing in their areas,” he said.
Shafie also called for cooperation from plantation workers and owners to remove snare traps found on their land.
“The plantation workers have shown that they are responsible when they have reported unusual activities like stray baby elephants or snared elephants. As people who are constantly on the ground, they would be the most effective in rooting out these criminal elements that seek to gain from illegal activities,” he said.
Shafie also called for the Sabah Wildlife Department to make their hotline number available to those living in human-elephant conflict zones to enable quicker action to stop possible conflicts.
He added he was aware of the need to form wildlife corridors to link fragmented forests and said he hoped non-governmental organisations could help fast-track this effort with the state government’s facilitation.
The state is currently under global conservationists’ radar following the reported death of 25 rare Borneo pygmy elephants this year alone.
Four elephants were found dead last weekend, including a mother and calf on plantation land, with two of them with gunshot wounds.
The causes of death for all 25 range from gunshot injuries to wounds, toxic substances and “unknown diseases”.
Shafie said that although he understood the plight of farmers and planters, who have to protect their crops on their land, they had “no right to kill these assets of ours.”
“Elephants in Sabah are totally protected by the law. It is a crime to hurt or kill them. Enforcement agencies cannot cover the ground that is needed to expose these criminal elements in our society,” he said, adding that he hopes Sabahans will serve as the eyes and ears for the protection of elephants.
“The human-wildlife conflict cannot be an excuse to kill, snare or poison these animals that are fully protected under the law as the state government wants to ensure that these animals are conserved so we and future generations can continue to enjoy Bornean elephants in the wild.”
The chief minister said Sabah’s wildlife, including the elephants, orangutans and proboscis monkeys, were part of the state’s rich heritage and an important tourism revenue earner with huge economic spin-offs for rural Sabah.
“Sadly, the wildlife, in particular the Bornean pygmy elephant, is dwindling at a rapid pace if the deaths this year alone are an indication of things to come,” he said, adding that the mere 1,500 to 2,500 elephants left in the wild could be extinct in a few decades.
“This effort to conserve cannot be left in the hands of the government and NGOs, the people –farmers, villagers, and plantation owners and their workers — have to cooperate in the fight against the problem with wildlife poaching.”