LIFELINE: More people entering forests will boost efforts to conserve elephants
KUALA LUMPUR: REGULAR patrolling in high-risk areas will provide a much needed lifeline for elephant conservation efforts.
Management and Ecological of Malaysian Elephants conservationist Steven Lim Boon Hock said creating presence in high-risk areas would intimidate poachers.
"If more people enter the forest to hike, document and preserve its treasures, poachers will think twice about entering the area and setting up snares for fear of being caught," said Lim, who is stationed at the Royal Belum and Temenggor forests.
He said Malaysian elephants were under threat from relentless poaching and human-animal conflicts.
"Elephants are not just hunted for their ivory but also their meat and organs.
"People sell small ivory as trinkets and jewellery while the feet are made into stools.
"It is sad to see these animals dying in big numbers just because some people want to make money. It makes you wonder, what is the real value of life?"
Lim, 49, used to have a high-flying job in the corporate world, earning a five-figure salary.
But his love for nature and wildlife was too strong to be kept as a hobby during the holidays. A few years ago, he quit his job to be a full-time conservationist.
"Compared with our neighbours, the number of Malaysian elephants is rapidly decreasing. The World Wide Fund for Nature estimated in 2010 that there were only 1,700 wild elephants left in the country.
"In Sri Lanka, there are more than 7,000 wild elephants while India is home to 20,000 wild elephants."
Lim added that elephants used to be very important in the lives of people in then Malaya.
During the sultanate era, monarchs used elephants as part of their entourage.
"During wars, elephants were used as the first line of defence. However, as time passed, elephants started to lose their significance in local culture.
"Now, you hear stories of elephants being poisoned by farmers when the animals trampled on their plants. Elephants are also being killed and dismembered by individuals trying to make a quick buck."
International Southeast Asia senior programme officer Kanitha Krishnasamy said poor planning of land use, such as converting forest land for plantations, was also causing conflicts between wildlife and people.
"When these animals are found encroaching on villages or plantations, it will create conflict and harm."
For example, the Gerik-Jeli highway that passes through both Belum and Temengor forests is one of the reasons for such a conflict.
Conservationists said road users could easily spot wild elephants at night when they came out from the forest to forage for food by the roadside.
This, however, exposed them to danger. Tales of accidents involving elephants and sounds of gunshots near the highway at night are common to the locals.