A HOLISTIC APPROACH: Scientists, NGOs and the public to help Wildlife and National Parks Department improve conservation and management techniques, and curb poaching and illegal trading of wildlife parts, writes Nuradilla Noorazam
PERHILITAN has confirmed that a new initiative, called the National Elephant Conservation Action Plan (NECAP), which is based on collaborative efforts by the department and the Wildlife Conservation Society Malaysia since last year, is expected to be unveiled this year.
A Perhilitan spokesman said NECAP would be more comprehensive than previous plans and was designed to encourage holistic management for elephant conservation, requiring paramount commitment from stakeholders, government agencies, non-governmental organisations and the public to address the threats and constraints in conservation endeavours.
NECAP will also feature a more extensive scientific-based approach in dealing with the challenges in ensuring the continuous survival of elephant species in the peninsula. The plan encourages academicians and scientists to conduct more research on wildlife conservation and management techniques, as well as new technologies that can assist the department in the future.
"We need all the help we can get, especially for people to act as informers in cases of poaching and illegal trading of wildlife parts. In addition, people can donate to the department's Biodiversity Conservation Fund, where all donations go to conservation efforts."
The decision to revise the existing management plan came about after the department took into account the impact of past efforts in elephant management, which were not effective enough to address the threat of elephant extinction.
In the past 35 years, the main form of elephant management in the peninsula was based on translocation.
Elephants are captured and relocated to natural areas to prevent them from coming into contact with people. As a result of the translocation programme, more than 600 wild elephants have been captured by the department between 1974 and 2010.
Most of them were relocated to major conservation areas, such as Taman Negara, Belum-Temenggor, Endau Rompin and the Sungai Ketiar Elephant Sanctuary.
The National Elephant Conservation Centre (NECC) in Kuala Gandah was established in 1989 as a base for the department's elephant translocation team. The centre provides rehabilitation and treatment for orphaned and injured elephants. Now, NECC has become one of the most widely visited eco-tourism destinations in the country, with more than 200,000 visitors annually.
The department's spokesman said translocation was effective in most conflict situations involving contact between elephants and humans, as elephants tend to keep coming back to populated areas.
To overcome human-elephant conflict (HEC), which has been identified as the second biggest threat to elephant conservation, the department conducts patrols and drive-by "shootings" in areas where cases of elephant disturbances in villages and orchards are rampant. The practice is meant only to scare the elephants and drive them back into the jungle to prevent further damage to human property and possibly, life-threatening danger to the animals.
HEC is considered an ancient phenomenon and its history can be traced back to ancestral times, when elephants frequently come into conflict with human settlements and plantations. In the peninsula, HEC was reported from as early as the 1900s and is now considered a major human-wildlife conflict, second only to the conflict involving long-tailed macaques.
As a long-term management solution, the department has initiated a master plan to build ecological links between forest areas that serve as key habitats for elephants across the country, called the Central Forest Spine (CFS).
"The links aim to restore the connectivity of the forest complexes within the CFS and will connect established wildlife and forest reserves. It's implementation is much anticipated by elephant conservationists nationwide."
A recent report from Perhilitan estimated that there are only 1,223 to 1,677 elephants left in the peninsula. Data by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia showed that there are approximately 1,200 pygmy elephants left in Sabah and all of Borneo.
The numbers continue to plummet every year because of massive deforestation to make way for development and agriculture.