After three months, officials still don’t know for certain what killed at least 14 Bornean elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) in the Malaysian state of Sabah. However tests do indicate that the herd perished from a “caustic intoxicant,” possibly ingested accidentally or just as easily intentionally poisoned. A distinct subspecies, Bornean elephants are the world’s smallest with a population that has fallen to around 2,000 on the island.
“In laypersons terms, we would say it is unidentified toxic poisoning [that killed the elephants],” announced, Laurentius Ambu, the Director of the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), today. Still the tests conducted in Malaysia, Thailand, and Australia have yet to point to a specific toxin.
When the elephants were found dead in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, suspicion immediately turned to nearby oil palm plantations and logging concessions, both of which view elephants as pests. Commercial poaching is also significant in the area, although the elephants’ tusks were not removed. As of yet, however, a criminal investigation has turned up nothing.
“This investigation is a top priority for the SWD and the State Government, unfortunately sometimes the process seems slow but we are being thorough and open with our findings throughout,” said SWD Assistant Director Sen Nathan. The government has offered a reward of RM 120,000 ($42,800) for any information on the animals’ deaths.
An action plant has been developed in Sabah for improving conservation of the Bornean elephant, which is hugely imperiled by habitat loss as well as human-wildlife conflict. However, Marc Ancrenaz, the Scientific Director of local NGO, HUTAN-KOCP, says that to date implementation has been wanting.
“We have practical and workable solutions within the State Action Plan, what we do not have is an active collaboration between the various Government agencies, various NGOs and private companies,” he says.
Three-month-old Bornean elephant calf next to dead mother. Officials suspect this elephant, and 13 others, were poisoned. Photo by: Sabah Wildlife Department. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Map of Sabah showing location of elephant deaths.
(01/31/2013) Wildlife officials in the Malaysian state of Sabah have found the bodies of 14 Bornean elephants in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, and suspect that more may be found dead. While tests are pending, they believe the elephants were likely poisoned due to damage in the animals’ digestive tracts. Only around 2,000 Bornean elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) are left on the island of Borneo with the vast bulk found in Sabah.
(03/10/2013) Borneo pygmy elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) are under threat in Indonesia’s new North Kalimantan province, where their habitat is set to be converted for rubber, jabon and sengon plantations. Experts worry that if the planned conversion goes ahead, the entire elephant population in Indonesian Borneo could be lost.
(04/08/2013) Less than 100 Sumatran rhinos survive in the world today, according to a bleak new population estimate by experts. The last survey in 2008 estimated that around 250 Sumatran rhinos survived, but that estimate now appears optimistic and has been slashed by 60 percent. However conservationists are responding with a major new agreement between the Indonesian and Malaysian governments at a recent summit by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC).
(01/28/2013) Three conservation groups warn that a proposed palm oil plantation puts a significant Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) population at risk in the Malaysian state of Sabah. The plantation, which would cover 400 hectares of private forest land, lies adjacent to Kulamba Wildlife Reserve, home to 480 orangutans.
(02/16/2012) Forest fragmentation and destruction is imperiling the Bornean elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis), according to a new paper published in PLoS ONE. Using satellite collars to track the pachyderms for the first time in the Malaysian state of Sabah, scientists have found that the elephants are extremely sensitive to habitat fragmentation from palm oil plantations and logging.