Saving the Wild Elephants of Peninsular Malaysia

This information was gathered and published by MESYM from this source.

Elephants used to roam throughout the whole of Peninsular Malaysia. At present, only seven states in the peninsular still have isolated populations of elephants, with an estimated total of 1200 to 1500 individuals1.

Dead elephant

The major causes of decline are forest clearance, land conversion for agriculture, and urban development. Roads cut off many travel routes and isolate elephant feeding grounds. So elephants are forced to encroach on human settlements and agricultural areas in search of food. This results in crop and property damage, and sometimes injury or death of humans. Affected people often want elephants to be translocated and may set out to kill problem elephants.

Why we need elephants

Elephants play an important role in maintaining the quality of our ecosystems and for the survival of other species:

  • They travel across large distances through many habitats. They help disperse seeds over large areas through their dung. The seeds are often viable and regenerate into trees.
  • They create waterholes for other animals by digging up riverbeds during the dry season.
  • They help open up forest clearings for smaller herbivores to graze on grasses and fallen tree shoots or fruits.

Where we work

We are currently working in the Endau-Rompin landscape in Peninsular Malaysia, straddling the border of Pahang and Johor. These uplands are an important catchment area for several rivers.

What we do

WCS Malaysia works with the Federal and State Department of Wildlife and National Parks to help to conserve wild elephants in the their habitats. WCS Malaysia believes that elephants and humans should co-exist in this landscape.

Jessica training on MIKE "S" Dung Classification System (Photo: Ariz Oziar)

Jessica training on MIKE “S” Dung Classification System.

Elephant population counts

The first rigorous elephant population count in Peninsular Malaysia was carried out in Taman Negara early in 2007. The survey covered an area of 4,343 sq km using the CITES-MIKE Dung Decay Survey Method. Results indicated that 631 elephants remain in Taman Negara, making it the largest population of elephants known in Southeast Asia.

In the following year, mid-2008, field teams conducted the elephant count survey in the Endau-Rompin National Park and adjoining forest blocks, covering a total area of 2,500 sq km. An estimated 135 elephants live in the area.

Elephant trail network survey

In mid-2012, we started recording elephant trails around villages where elephants encroach into the crop and settlement areas, to map the areas and routes currently used by elephants.

Team checking an electric fence

Monitoring the effectiveness of electric fencing

The government and commercial plantations have put up electric fences to keep out elephants. From mid 2011 to early 2012 our field teams walked along the electric fences to check on fence maintenance and gaps, and elephant signs along the fence.

We found that success of electric fencing depended on:

  • the design and construction of the electric fence (e.g. voltage);
  • management of weak points such as river crossings, roads and marshy areas;
  • regular maintenance of fences.
A watchtower to look out for maurauding elephants

Watchtower (above) and siren fence.

A siren set to sound if an elephant touches the fence

Mitigating conflict between humans and elephants

Since 2008, we have worked on ways to reduce human-elephant conflict. Some of the activities included:

  • Engaging with local communities and commercial plantations to collect information on crop damage by elephants.
  • Testing crop protection methods at three pilot sites. We tried a combination of elephant detection fences and watchtowers, village response teams, and spotlights and loudhailers to chase elephants away. This pilot work was successful, and four more villages have adopted our crop-protection techniques.
  • Helping plantation managers to select elephant corridors across their land so that elephants can use their traditional routes between remaining forests.

Training in specialist techniques

Several training workshops have been conducted since 2007 in connection with our field activities, including:

  • Dung decay survey methods
  • Survey methods to assess elephant damage to crop and property
  • Mitigation methods to reduce elephant and human conflict

Development of the National Elephant Conservation Action Plan (NECAP)

We have been invited by the Government to help develop the National Elephant Conservation Action Plan (NECAP). The Action Plan will address the threats to elephants and measures protect them for the future.

Several consultation workshops have taken place to discuss implementation, and a multi-agency stakeholder workshop with 60 participants is planned for 29 November – 1 December 2012.

Partners

Denver Zoo  Department of Wildlife and National Parks Malaysia  Forest Department, Peninsular Malaysia G E F Global Environmental Facility Johor National Parks Corporation

Kulim (M) Berhad G E F Small Grants Program U N D P  U S Fish and Wildlife Service  Wildlife Conservation Society


1 Saaban, S., Othman, N., Yasak, M.N., Nor, B.M., Zafir, A. & Campos-Arceiz, A. (2011). Current Status of Asian Elephants in Peninsular Malaysia. Gajah 35(9):67-75

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