The Sabah Wildlife Department which is investigating the mysterious deaths of several elephants have not discounted poisoning.
KOTA KINABALU: The horrific discovery of a herd of dead pygmy elephants, including a cow elephant with its calf lingering by her side, all apparently poisoned within a Yayasan Sabah forestry concession area over the last two weeks has shocked wildlife authorities in the state.
A stunned State Tourism Minister Masidi Manjun has called for a thorough investigation into the “mysterious death” of the Bornean elephants that were found dead at at the Forestry Management Unit (FMU) 23, a Yayasan Sabah Concession area in the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, some 130km from Tawau.
“I have directed the Sabah Wildlife Department to set up a joint task force with relevant stakeholders such as the Forestry Department, Yayasan Sabah, WWF and the Royal Malaysian Police to further investigate these deaths and to get to the bottom of it.
“If indeed these poor elephants were maliciously poisoned I would personally make sure that the culprits are brought to justice and pay for their crime,” said Masidi in his response to the matter.
He said he was shocked when he was briefed of the said incident.
“This is a very sad day for conservation in Sabah. The death of these majestic and severely endangered Bornean elephants is a great loss to the state.
“I have been briefed by my officers that though it might be too early to have a conclusive cause of death, poisoning seems to be the likely cause. Whether this was done intentionally or not is yet to be known,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Sabah Wildlife Department director Dr Laurentius Ambu said the first report of the dead elephants was given six days ago.
“We received the initial report that four elephants were found dead along the Luasong/Telupid logging road about 5km from the gates of Syarikat Empayar Kejora Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary company of Yayasan Sabah,” said Laurentius.
“We immediately mobilised our Wildlife Rescue Unit and Enforcement Unit to investigate. When the team arrived they were shocked to see that there were actually more than four dead elephants in that area.
“Within the space of two days the Rescue and Enforcement Team together with the staff of the logging company, Empayar Kejora found another four dead or dying elephants.
“Moreover, early this year, two highly decomposed elephant carcasses were found in the general vicinity of where these eight animals were found.
“We believe that all the deaths of these elephants are related. We have stationed our team there to recce the area and to further investigate if there are any more elephants involved,” he said.
Dr Sen Nathan, senior veterinarian for the Sabah Wildlife Department said: “Of the 10 elephants, seven were females and three were males, ranging from as young as 4-years-old to around 20.
“It looks like these animals are from the same family group and whatever happened to them happened at the same space of time.
“It was actually a very sad sight to see all those dead elephants, especially one of the dead females who had a very young calf of about 3-months-old.
“The calf was trying to wake the dead mother up,” said Sen. “The baby calf had to be rescued and it is now being hand-raised by wildlife rangers at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park.
“None of the elephants had gunshot wounds. (A) postmortem was done on all of them and it looks like their gastrointestinal tract had severe hemorrhage and ulceration with some bleeding from the mouth and anus,” said Dr Sen.
“We highly suspect that it might be some form of acute poisoning from something that they had eaten but we are still waiting for the laboratory results of the chemical analysis from samples taken from the dead elephants to confirm the diagnosis,” he said.
It is believed that there are less than 2,000 of the species that is found only in Borneo. Compared to Asian elephants, the Borneon species are smaller and rounder. Experts have long warned that the unique species are fast losing their habitat with the rampant expansion of oil palm plantations and human intrusion.