Malaysia: Elephants stuck in mud pool; five dead, two euthanised, two released

ROY GOH New Straits Times 14 Sep 16;

TAWAU: Rangers on Saturday have pulled out four of nine elephants found trapped for days in a three-metre deep mud pool near a logging site in Rinukut.

Two of the rescued adult elephants were released into the wild while two others had to be euthanised after the animals were found to be too weak, suffering from acute dehydration and blinded by the ordeal.

Five of the elephants were already dead when state Wildlife Department rescue unit arrived at the site on Saturday.

State Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the unit was dispatched to the site after the department received a report on the same day.

“Unfortunately, when our team reached the area, five of the elephants were already dead," he said, adding that two were full-sized adults, two juveniles and a newborn.

"We believe they were stuck in that pool for at least a week," he said.

Augustine said that the team, with the help of heavy machinery from a nearby timber camp, managed to pull out the two adult elephants from the pool.

"The two eventually ran back into the forest," he said.

However, the two other elephants that were pulled out later were too weak, he added.

Augustine said to prevent similar mishap, the team decided to cover up the mud pool with soil.

He said investigations have ruled out foul play in the incident.

"The elephants probably went into the mud pool to cool themselves and to bathe.

Unfortunately, they probably underestimated the depth and the quicksand-like consistency of the mud causing them to be trapped." he said.

Pond an elephant death trap

KOTA KINABALU: A disused quarry pond turned out to be a death trap for a herd of seven endangered Borneo Pygmy elephants, with five, including three young calves, drowning and two more being put down as they were too weak to be saved.

Only two elephants in the nine-animal herd escaped alive.

The death of the elephants comes as a major blow to Sabah’s efforts to conserve the 1,500 or so remaining jumbos in its forests.

The nine pachyderms were believed to have been trapped inside the pond for at least a week before the heart-wrenching find by passers-by in Rinukut, off the Kalabakan-Keningau road in Tawau.

A post-mortem confirmed that five of the elephants (two adults, a juvenile and two newborns) had drowned.

Another two adult elephants suffered from severe dehydration.

“The two were too weak, dehydrated and blind that they had to be put to sleep to save them from their misery,” said Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga.

“It is tragic,” he told reporters yesterday.

Two other elephants were pulled out of the pond by wildlife rangers. The animals fled to a nearby forest.

The herd had gone to cool off in the four-metre deep disused pond near a timber camp.

Augustine said the department was notified about the trapped elephants by the passers-by and had immediately sent out a rescue team.

“Unfortunately, when our team reached the area, five of the nine trapped elephants were already dead.

“They had been stuck in that pool for at least a week,” he said.

With help of some heavy machinery from the nearby Berkat Saga timber camp, two of the stronger adult elephants managed to be pulled out to safety.

They eventually ran into the forest, Augustine said.

He ruled out foul play based on their investigation and post-mortem reports.

“The elephants probably went into the mud pool to cool themselves and to bathe,” Augustine said.

“They probably underestimated the depth and the quicksand-like consistency of the mud and could not come out,” he added.

The mud pool was sealed with sand following the tragedy.

Augustine urged those who did similar excavations to fill up or fence up areas if they are no longer in use.

This was to prevent possible recurrence especially in areas occupied by elephants and other animals, he added.

All jumbos wanted was to have fun, says vet
The Star 15 Sep 16;

KOTA KINABALU: A baby, wanting to have fun, wades into a pool of water. His buddy joins in. The adults join in too. Then, they run into trouble in the water. In the struggle to get out, the adults trample the young. And seven elephants die.

That was the painful story veterinarian Dr Laura Benedict had to tell after the deaths of seven elephants at a disused mining pond at a jungle area in Tawau.

“It was heart wrenching. It is the worst I have seen so far,” said Dr Benedict, who was part of the eight-member Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) team that went to the scene on Sept 10 after an alert from the public to the Wildlife Department.

“I was really shocked. We don’t come across this sort of cases where nearly a herd is found dead, she said.

“Elephants enjoy the cool water. For them to die in it, it’s so sad.”

Dr Benedict said they moved in quickly to help rescue the surviving elephants that day.

“I believe the calves drowned first. And when the adults tried to get out, they might have trampled on them,” she said.

The closest settlement was about 10km from a timber camp nearby. There was also a plantation about 32km away.

“The place is isolated and people we talked to said that they never go to that area,” she said.

“Whoever dug a hole in the area should have just covered it after they’ve finished their work there. These deaths could have been prevented,” said Dr Benedict, who has been involved in the rescue of over a dozen elephants, including at least 10 calves.

Questions raised over conservation efforts
The Star 15 Sep 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The deaths of seven pygmy elephants in a quarry pond, coming in the wake of the poisoning of 14 adult elephants three years ago, have again raised questions over the conservation of the sub-species.

The elephants are considered endangered and only about 1,500 are to be found in the wild – almost all in Sabah.

Although the Sabah Wildlife Department has ruled out foul play in the latest case, these gentle giants of Sabah remain under threat in shrinking forest areas in view of the severe human-elephants conflicts.

Fears are real that they may face the same fate as the rhinos, where only three are left in captivity and none seen in the wild in the last five years.

“It is really a sad day for conservation to see seven helplessly die in a (disused quarry) mud pool where they enjoy wallowing,” said elephant conservationist Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens.

“I just can’t imagine how they suffered before they died, They must have been struggling to get out of the pool,” he said.

Furthermore, it was a huge setback to see calves dying in the tragedy, he added.

“Elephants are slow breeders. It takes time for their population to increase,” he said, adding that the jumbos were constantly facing threats to their habitat amid growing conflict with development.

This week’s discovery of the dead elephants is the second largest of such deaths in Sabah.

In January 2013, 14 adult elephants were found dead in a widely suspected case of poisoning in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve area in Tawau. One calf tugging to its mother survived.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun described the heartbreaking news as a big dent to efforts towards conservation.

“It is a very sad day for Sabah. We are constantly pushing conservation efforts in Sabah and this incident wiped out a whole herd of our elephants,” Masidi said.

He said this was a lesson for all to learn and that everyone had a duty to assist in conservation and not leave it solely to the rangers of the department.

He also questioned why the disused quarry pond was still there, saying that the people around it or those operating in the area could have identified the threat not only to animals but also human beings.

He said plantations and other companies operating close to wildlife-rich areas should play a role in identifying dangers to the wildlife and take remedial action to prevent untoward incidents.

“People must act consciously. Conservation should be part of our lives. It should be an automatic action to conserve our wildlife and not just leave it to our rangers,” he said.

“The elephants belong to all of us.”

How mud pool came about
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 16 Sep 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The mud pool in which seven Borneo Pygmy elephants drowned is likely to have been dug by timber camp workers less than 15 years ago.

Sabah Forestry director Datuk Sam Mannan said the workers were believed to have dug out the stones to build a road.

“I don’t know why they did not close it. Maybe they left it as a water source or even to be used in the event of forest fires,” he said yesterday.

Mannan said over time, the hole could have been filled with mud and water, adding that it was sad the elephants were trapped in it.

The department, he said, could not pinpoint exactly which group or company had been involved in the digging at the site in Rinukut, off the Kalabakan-Keningau road in Tawau, which was located in an old logging land that came under a former forest management area under the department’s jurisdiction.

“We don’t know for sure who dug the hole.

“We can’t just accuse anyone,” said Mannan, describing the deaths of the animals as a very “unfortunate incident”.

The deaths of the elephants in the 3m- to 4m-deep mud pool have been described as a major blow to Sabah’s conservation of pygmy elephants, which are an endangered species.

The pachyderms drowned after they were stuck in the pool for at least a week. Two others were rescued by wildlife rangers on Saturday.

The deaths have led to calls for more efforts by all stakeholders to minimise dangers to elephants and other wildlife in their areas to ensure their survival.

On Wednesday, State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun described the deaths as “a valuable lesson”.

“We need to minimise lurking dangers within the area and environment where they (the elephants) normally move,” he said, adding that both individuals and companies should take it as their duty and responsibility to protect these iconic creatures.

He said that at the very least, they should inform the Sabah Wildlife Department if they saw situations that could potentially endanger the elephants.

Conflict with humans more of a threat for jumbos
The Star 16 Sep 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s dwindling Borneo pygmy elephant population is more threatened by conflict with humans amid forest clearing for agriculture than by accidental and natural deaths, says a conservationist.

Dr Marc Ancrenaz, who heads the non-governmental organisation Hutan that works with the state Wildlife Department, said deaths through poisoning and shooting took a toll every year on the roaming elephants, which are estimated to number between 1,500 and 2,500.

“Every year, we believe there are quite a number of elephants dying due to poisoning or being shot dead by people trying to stop them from destroying their plantations,” he said.

Human-elephant conflict, said Dr Ancrenaz, had become unavoidable because as large tracts of jungles and forests were cleared for agricultural and development purposes, these elephants continued to venture into such areas which were their traditional habitat.

“Our forests are fragmented from (Sabah’s eastern) Kinabatangan to (southeastern) Kalabakan in Tawau.

“The fragmentation of our forests will continue to create conflict with villagers and planters because these elephants need to find food,” he said. “Their isolated forest is not sufficient for their foraging needs.”

“We still need more corridors to link the isolated forests for the elephants to move about and breed,” said Dr Ancrenaz.

He said the accidental deaths of the elephants in the mud pool might not have happened if those who dug it closed it up after carrying out their activities in the area.

“It is an irresponsible act,” he said, adding that the area was likely to be the natural roaming ground for the elephants in the forested areas of Kalabakan before logging took place.

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