After Fatal Elephant Attacks Expert Urges Teaching Folk How To Stay Safe


 


A wildlife conservationist is urging the authorities to educate those living on the fringes of the animal's habitat on what to do if they chance upon a wild elephant.
This is after an Orang Asli teenager was killed on Jan 9 in an elephant attack in Kampung Tual, Pos Sinderut, near Sungai Koyan in Pahang, where locals say the large mammals were never sighted before.
It is the second fatal attack by an elephant involving Orang Asli folk in the area, in two months.
Conservationist Ahmad Zafir Abdul Wahab (above) said land use changes in traditional ranging areas of wild elephants have caused them to venture into human areas in search of food. Hence, human-elephant conflict has become a more frequent occurrence.
"What's needed now is to offer education. There are ways of empowering affected communities with the knowledge to better manage human-wildlife interactions to avoid harm to property, injury and loss of life," said the expert whose area of expertise is large mammals including elephants.
Not just an Orang Asli issue
He added such conflicts do not only affect the Orang Asli whose settlements are often within forest reserves, but also other communities including in urban residential areas.
In December, a wild elephant entered a prison in Kluang while herds have also visited residential areas in the same district in the past months.
Poster by NGOs Hutan and Seratu Atai on elephant behaviour.He said such community awareness programmes are already in place in Sabah, to educate residents who are likely to come into conflict with the large mammals, on what to do if this happens.
"(The villagers) are taught, 'When you see an elephant flap their ears, what does it mean? When an elephant puts up its trunk or scrapes its feet, what should you do?'" he said.
The Habitat Foundation programme director said that the Ulu Jelai forest reserve close to Pos Sinderut is an elephant habitat, and activities affecting the forest may drive some of the wildlife to come closer to the human population.
As such, the community around there needs to be vigilant and aware of what to do, even if they have never before had an issue with wild elephants.
Looking for salt, grass and shrubs
He said forest clearing may have destroyed salt licks, so elephants may come into villages looking for salt to meet their mineral needs.
Ahmad Zafir added elephants also enter orchards and smallholdings to eat grass and shrubs if they find it difficult to find them in the forest.
"Elephants roam very far, in an area of more than 300 square km, per herd. So we need to look at what happened in the area where they were roaming," he said.
Further, he said, the attack in Pos Sinderut happened in the forested area near the village and not in the village itself.
This makes it even more important for the community to know what they should do during foraging activities, now that elephants are known to roam the area.
In the attack, Andy Yok Manin, 16, was killed while two others, his brother Borhan, 23, and relative Fairul Yok Tong, 22, managed to flee when the elephant charged at them.
The youths chanced upon the animal when they were searching for petai in the forested area near their village.
'Avoid changing land use in elephant ranging areas'
Ahmad Zafir said further human-elephant conflicts can be avoided if we consult existing data on elephant-ranging areas and the Central Forest Spine, before any land use change is approved.
"The whole point of the Central Forest Spine was to avoid land use change in these areas and to aim to enrich and reconnect them.
"We should not lose sight of this aim and go back to our National Physical Plan," he said.
"What normally happens now is, by the time we get to mitigation measures, it is already dangerous and too late as many of the elephant habitats have already been converted."
The Central Forest Spine is a network of natural corridors in Peninsular Malaysia, used by wildlife to move from one forest complex to the other, while the National Physical Plan among others marks out areas which are deemed environmentally sensitive and crucial for wildlife.
Perhilitan: Elephant believed to have returned to forest
Earlier, the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) said a team from Pahang Perhilitan and the National Elephant Conservation Centre in Kuala Gandah started its operation to capture the elephant in Pos Sinderut on Jan 10.
On Jan 12, the tracks showed that it was moving toward Pos Betau, crossing the Sungai Koyan-Cameron Highlands Road, to re-enter the Ulu Jelai Forest Reserve, the department said last week.
Pos Betau and Pos Sinderut are located some 65km from each other by road and are separated by a dense forest.
The department is also cooperating with the Orang Asli Affairs Department (Jakoa) to raise awareness and mitigation measures against wildlife conflicts in Orang Asli settlements.
Following the attack, Perhilitan on Facebook also published a poster showing how to avoid elephant conflict and what to do if chancing upon a wild elephant.
Lives at stake
Kampung Tual village chief Yok Ek Cantan, when met by Malaysiakini in his village after the attack, said villagers may have to take matters into their own hands if nothing is done.
Before the attack, the same elephant was believed roaming around their orchards - the first time an elephant was seen near their village, Yok Ek, whose family has lived there for at least five generations, said.
However, he said, elephants have been spotted since around 2018 in Kampung Simoi, in Pos Betau, when forest clearing started to happen.
On Dec 6, a woman in Kampung Simoi Baru was trampled to death by an elephant, which overran her wooden home.
The incident in Pos Sinderut is the second involving wild elephants this year, with Perhilitan successfully translocating an elephant which entered a village in Bongor, Kedah, to an unidentified "suitable habitat" on Jan 12.
Endangered species
The Asian Elephant is an endangered species, with Perhilitan estimating less than 1,700 are in the wild in Malaysia.
Among threats to their existence is the loss of habitat, which also leads to human-elephant conflicts.
Between 2015 and 2021, Perhilitan recorded 3,325 complaints of human-elephant conflicts.
From January to June last year, some 435 similar complaints were reported. - Mkini


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