ROY GOH New Straits Times 28 Aug 16;
THE arrival of a herd of seven elephants at the doorsteps of many homes in Telupid early this year was greeted with mixed feelings.
Some were excited, others angry and there were those who feared the elephants which came from a forest reserve 90km away.
Damage was limited to crops, some vehicles, fences and one house but the level of distress depended on who the victim was.
Telupid, located in the centre of Sabah, is a district about 250km east of Kota Kinabalu and 150km west of Sandakan.
The herd, led by two alpha females, appeared in early January and roamed an area that stretched within a 5km radius, for about two weeks.
The last sighting of the herd was on Jan 18.
SMK Telupid principal Rukimin Sulit said he was alerted by teachers staying at the quarters within the school compound about the elephants in the early hours of Jan 6.
It was the first time the elephants were spotted at the school, which was built in 1987. The herd came from a forested area nearby and forced their way through the fence.
“Some of the teachers and their families were initially shocked and scared. But judging by the videos they took, it appears they were more excited.”
Teachers at the school live in a four-storey concrete building on stilts. Despite being near, they could see the elephants from a safe distance above without any worry.
“Dogs barked and this annoyed the elephants. One of them bellowed loudly, like a warning, and the dogs stopped barking.
“The herd came to the school compound every day for one week and the dogs did not bark,” Rukimin said, adding that on most days, the elephants stayed until daybreak.
Crops planted by the teachers in the compound, such as tapioca, sugarcane, bananas and a type of palm-like plant with edible shoots were devoured during the elephants’ nightly visits.
Teacher Jalis Sina said during one of their visits, the younger elephants damaged a plastic water storage tank and tipped it over to drink the water.
“The following day, I prepared a water tank, placed it on the ground and filled it up. The elephants drank from it and did not damage the storage tanks after that.”
Jalis said most people living around Telupid, Kinabatangan, Tawau and Lahad Datu, where elephants were found in the wild, were not afraid of the animals as they kept their distance.
“We don’t disturb them, we don’t make noise when we see them and leave them be.
“Unless there are crops to worry about, especially areas with young oil palm trees, then something needs to be done.”
Housewife Aini Gunsawi, 51, from Kampung Gambaron, said despite seeing elephants near her wooden house on stilts around the same time for the third consecutive year, she was still afraid.
“They are big and they sound scary.
“Three years ago when the elephants first came near my house, my vegetables were destroyed.
“I no longer plant vegetables on the ground and use pots or containers to plant my chillies, brinjals and leafy greens. They were also destroyed.”
During the herd’s recent “visit”, she managed to capture a footage of a young elephant charging (playfully, according to a ranger from the Wildlife Department who saw the clip) towards her house and the words she uttered asserted her fear.
“I called out to the big one and told her ‘nek jangan kacau kami’ because that is what other villagers would do.”
Local communities often refer to elephants as “nenek” or “elder one”, which shows their fear and respect for the animal.
Plantation worker Jimi Kisun said the elephants destroyed more than 5ha of newly planted oil palm trees in Kampung Bauto where he worked last year.
“All our hardwork for months was destroyed overnight. We can start again but something needs to be done.”
The Wildlife Department had assigned a team from its Wildlife Rescue Unit led by Dr Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam to monitor the movement of the elephants.
The team was also tasked to capture and translocate the animals but the opportunity did not come their way.
To assure the locals, state Wildlife Department director William Baya recently engaged the local communities, informing them of efforts to keep the elephants at bay.
He, however, stressed a long-term solution was needed and the answer lay in community-led wildlife squads.
“Such squads can help reduce threats, especially in areas where human-elephant conflict is prevalent. It’s not only Telupid that faces such threats but other districts, too, such as Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu and Tawau.
“With such squads, the threats can be contained temporarily before the Wildlife Rescue Unit arrives.
“This can help reduce property damage and risks.”
A community squad has already been formed in Sukau, Kinabatangan, where members were given special training on how to deal with elephants and control them from causing more damage before help from the Wildlife Rescue Unit arrives.
ROY GOH New Straits Times 28 Aug 16;