Malaysia: Environmentalist leads Malaysia's Asian elephants towards brighter future

ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 9 Oct 16;

KUALA TERENGANU: Do not take our wildlife for granted as we have already lost the leatherback turtle and Sumatran rhinoceros, warned an environmental expert.

Wong Ee Phin, a final year PhD student at University of Nottingham Malaysia in Semenyih, Selangor, said that it is high time Malaysian stakeholders value and protect our flora and fauna for the benefit of future generations.

“We have to work together to conserve our precious gift. We have lost the leatherback turtle and Sumatran rhino. But there is still time to save our tigers, elephants, turtles and other wildlife, if we start now,” she said.

Even the Sultan of Terengganu, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, had warned last year of the dangers of poaching, going to the extent of asking what would appear on our national emblem’s coat-of-arms if there were no more Malayan tigers left.

“Malaysia is blessed with high biodiversity and beautiful nature. It is a gift that many do not appreciate until it is lost.

“People from all over the world are fighting for a chance to work with wildlife in Malaysia, such as tigers, elephants and turtles,” said Ee Phin, who will speak on ‘Tracking wild Asian elephants in Peninsular Malaysia’ at the Terengganu International Eco and Marine Tourism conference at Primula Beach Hotel tomorrow.

She said although the Asian elephant is the largest land animal in Asia, it is very challenging to observe it in the wild and study it in the rainforest.

“In comparison to African Savannah elephants, very little is known about the ecology of elephants in the Asian forest, including their behaviour and social structure.

“The greatest threats to elephants in Peninsular Malaysia are habitat loss and fragmentation, which lead to an increase in Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC),” she said.
HECs in Malaysia, she added, occur mainly when elephants raid crops in plantations or villages.

“There is a vital need to work towards reducing HECs and increasing tolerance among communities so that they can coexist with elephants in the same landscape.” said Ee Phin, whose PhD is in Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME), which is a joint research project between the University of Nottingham Malaysia and the wildlife authorities of Peninsular Malaysia.

For the past five years, Ee Phin has been studying wild elephants in the rainforests of Malaysia together with her MEME colleagues, under the supervision of Dr. Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz.
“MEME aims to build a local research capacity and carry out research that helps support the Malaysia
n wildlife authorities in their decision-making.
“Conservation and science go hand in hand, as we can only manage what we can measure,” she said.

Ee Phin is also a master’s graduate in ‘Wildlife Biology and Management’, with five years of working experience in Malaysia’s conservation scene, specifically on issues ranging from wetlands, to species biology and ground wildlife enforcement.

“My research focus is on developing non-invasive monitoring methods for Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) using hormone and parasitology techniques. What I am beginning to discover is just the tip of the iceberg, and there is so much more to learn.

“I hope my research will provide scientific data to help support the Malaysian authorities in making informed decisions about the management and conservation of wild elephants in Peninsular Malaysia,” she said.

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