Masidi: Death of Bornean pygmy elephants due to toxic elements in food


KOTA KINABALU: Toxic constituents were intentionally added to the food eaten by the Bornean pygmy elephants that were found dead at the Gunung Rara forest reserve in Tawau, early this year.


State Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said a toxicology analysis by the Queensland Biosecurity Sciences Laboratory, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry in Australia discovered from the liver samples of two elephants and a sample of white powder at a location where another elephant was found dead, showed a high level of heavy metal such as arsenic, cadmium, iron and chromium.
"The combination of such metals is usually found in mines, foundries, garbage and toxic waste dumping sites. There are no activities of such nature in the area so the phenomenon is just incomprehensible," he said in his winding up speech for the ministry at the Sabah State Assembly session in Likas, here today.
Fourteen Bornean elephants were found dead at the forest reserve, about 139km from Tawau, in January this year.
Masidi said the findings by pathologists from the veterinary faculty at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and Thailand suggested that caustic or toxic elements had damaged the elephants' digestive system.
He said analysis by the chemistry department of Malaysia and Ramathibodi Poison Centre, Thailand on the elephants' kidneys, spleen and lymphoid tissues supported the findings although they could not trace the presence of toxic elements.
He said a committee comprising representatives from the Wildlife department, Royal Malaysian Police, state Forestry department, Chemistry department, UPM, state Veterinary Services and Animal Industry department and a few relevant non-governmental organisations (NGOs) was subsequently set up to probe the deaths.
According to Masidi, the state government had also upgraded the conservation status of the Bornean elephants from a merely 'protected' to 'fully-protected' species under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.
As to the negative impact of the incident on the international community, he said the perception was not really accurate as the Bornean elephant population was currently 2,000 and the rate of delivery among the species at conservation such as the Kinabatangan wildlife Sanctuary and Tabin Wildlife Reserve had increased by five per cent.
He said his ministry through the Wildlife department was still pursuing investigations and maintaining the RM120,000 reward for information.
"The Wildlife department in collaboration with some agencies and NGOs are implementing the Bornean species action plan.
"To this end, the department with the cooperation of the Borneo Conservation Trust, Sabah and Borneo Conservation Trust in Japan are building an Elephant Rescue Centre at the Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary to relocate injured and pocketed elephants," he said.
Meanwhile, Masidi said tourist arrivals from China had increased by 75 per cent, with 103,917 in the first four months of this year compared with 59,385 in the corresponding period, last year.
"Chinese visitors contribute to 31 per cent of Sabah's foreign tourists," he said. -- BERNAMA 

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