Malaysia: Beloved Bornean pygmy elephant with 'sabre' tusks found dead, killed by poachers

OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 1 Jan 17;

KINABATANGAN: His discovery five months ago caused a sensation. His rediscovery yesterday has caused heartache.

While rescuing and relocating a small herd of Bornean pygmy elephants – a highly endangered species – out of a palm oil plantation in early Aug, the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) came upon a male pachyderm with bizarre-looking, downward-pointing tusks.

It resembled the now-extinct sabre-toothed tiger, something rarely, if ever, encountered – and images of the mini-elephant went viral on social media.

It was lovingly named “Sabre” by the team, which fixed a satellite collar on it to monitor its movements and wellbeing, before releasing it into the Kawag Forest Reserve near Danum Valley.

On Nov 20, the signal from Sabre’s collar showed that he had become stationary, indicating that he may have been in trouble.

Yesterday, the worst fears of the WRU, as well as the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), were realised.

Sabre was discovered dead, along with a jumbo elephant, near the Segama river here – apparently killed by ivory poachers for their tusks.

Sabre’s remains were nothing but bones, as he is believed to have been killed around Nov 20, but the carcass of the jumbo elephant, found 1,500 kilometres up the river, was fresh.

The jumbo elephant had been horribly mutilated, as its entire face had been carved out, as a way of extracting its tusks.

In a Facebook posting on the DGFC site, director Dr Benoit Goosens said they were devastated by the killing.

"There are no words to express our sadness and anger. We hope that the departments in charge will do everything (they can) to catch the culprit(s) and that (the crime) will not go unpunished.

“Sabah, wake up, we are losing our megafauna. The rhino is gone, the banteng is going, the elephant will be next! Let’s not lose our jewels. The next generation will not forgive us!" he appealed.


Jumbo with unique 'sabre' tusks found killed
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 1 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Conservationists entered the New Year in shock as a Borneo pygmy elephant with unique “sabre” tusks was found brutally killed.

The elephant had actually been rescued from a plantation in Tawau three months earlier and fitted with a satellite collar as part of efforts to monitor its movements.

The animal's skeletal remains were found in the Segama conservation area on the eve of New Year, hardly a week after another elephant was found dead in the same area.

The remains of the sabre-tusked elephant were found on Saturday.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) said that based on information from the satellite collar, the unique sabre-tusked elephant might have been killed on Nov 20.

The elephant’s remains and the satellite collar were discovered on Saturday morning.

When contacted DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens said the remains were found by a DGFC and Wildlife Rescue Unit team about 1.5km away from where the other elephant was found on Dec 26.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga could not be immediately reached for comment over the incident.


Poachers hunt for ivory in Sabah
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 2 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah woke up this New Year’s Day to a new reality; that its critically endangered Borneo Pygmy elephants are being hunted for their ivory.

In the space of just two months, two elephants – including a rare sabre-tusked animal whose rescue from a Tawau plantation in August was featured in newspapers – were found killed.

All fingers are now pointing at poachers who are eyeing the tusks for the lucrative international ivory trade.

Conservationists indicate that there have been three such killings so far, with one discovered in the east coast Kinabatangan area in October last year that was not made public.

A saddened but irate State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun has ordered Sabah’s Wildlife Department to step up enforcement against poachers.

“There are just too many killings. They need to buck up,” said Masidi, who instructed state director Augustine Tuuga to provide him a full report on the latest killings.

While poaching elephants for ivory has never been a trend in Sabah, the recent three cases show that the animals may now be targeted.

This comes as China – considered the largest ivory market – announced on Friday that it was closing down the trade by the end of the year.

Sabre, a sabre-toothed elephant was rescued from a plantation in Tawau three months ago and was likely killed by poachers on Nov 20 but his skeletal remains was found only on New Years eve.

In a statement, Kinabatangan-based Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) teams said they were saddened and shocked by the slaughter of the two bull elephants near the Kawag Forest Reserve along the Segama River.

The carcass of the first bull was found on Dec 27 in the middle of an estate bordering the reserve, while that of the sabre-tusked animal – known to researchers as Sabre – was discovered on New Year’s Eve about 1.5km away.

Sabre, which wore a satellite collar, was relocated to the reserve three months ago.

“The tusks were removed from both bulls. We found the skeletal remains of Sabre on New Year’s Eve, with the satellite collar next to the skull,” said DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens.

“We thought Sabre would be safe there after we fitted a satellite collar at the reserve near Danum.

“We were obviously wrong,” he said, adding that Sabre is believed to have been killed on Nov 21 based on satellite data.

The killings are not believed to have happened at the same time.

Dr Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam, a WRU veterinarian who took part in Sabre’s rescue and relocation, said it appeared there was no safe place for the elephants in Sabah anymore.

“Authorities responsible for enforcement must work harder and smarter if we want to conserve wildlife in Sabah,” he said.

There are an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 pygmy elephants in Sabah forests.


Two rare elephants killed for ivory in central Sabah
Channel NewsAsia 2 Jan 17;

LAHAD DATU: Wildlife rescue workers in Sabah entered the new year in shock, as two wild bull elephants were killed by poachers near Segama River, Kawag Forest Reserve within a few weeks.

The first bull was found on Dec 27, 2016 in the middle of an estate bordering Kawag Forest Reserve while the second bull, a gorgeous sabre-tusked bull named Sabre, was found on New Year's Eve.

"We found the remains of Sabre on New Year’s Eve, with the satellite collar next to the skull,” said Danau Girang Field Centre Director Benoit Goossens in a statement on Jan 1.

Mr Goossens said Sabre was rescued from a plantation near Tawau early October last year, fitted with a satellite collar, and released into a forest reserve near Danum where he was presumed to be safe.

“We were obviously wrong. In the space of a month, Sabre and another large bull were killed by poachers for ivory, both carcasses were found 1,500m from each other, although the killings did not happen at the same time,” said Goossens.

According to satellite data, Sabre was killed on Nov 21, 2016.

“We are ready to provide all necessary information to the investigators and to the police. I believe that this is the work of a professional hunter and trader," Goossens added.

“On the day China banned ivory trade, we get two of our precious elephants murdered for their ivory. Our elephants are already threatened by habitat loss, development such as the planned road/bridge in Sukau-Kinabatangan. And if we add poaching for ivory, I don’t give many years for the species to become extinct.”

Meanwhile, wildlife veterinarian from the Wildlife Rescue Unit, Dr Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam, who took part in the rescue and translocation of Sabre, said there are no words to express his sadness.

He told Bernama that it looks like there is no safe place for elephants in Sabah anymore.

"The relevant authorities who are responsible for enforcement of illegal wildlife poaching and other illegal activities must work harder and smarter if we want to conserve our wildlife in Sabah," he stressed.

- BERNAMA/ll


Poachers may be from outside plantations
The Star 3 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Wildlife authorities investigating the killing of two Borneo pygmy elephants over the past week are gathering details about the poachers.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said their rangers had questioned workers of the plantations where the elephant carcasses were recovered.

“We are gathering information about the poachers. We believe they were from outside the plantations,” he said yesterday.

Augustine said the department was working with the police to track down the killers of the elephants.

“We are hopeful that we will eventually get them,” he added.

Malaysians were shocked by the discoveries of the elephant carcasses near the Kawag Forest Reserve on Dec 27, and just outside the Ulu Segama Forest Reserve on Dec 31.

The carcass of the first bull was found in the middle of an estate bordering the forest reserve while the second pachyderm with reverse tusks, known to researchers as Sabre, was discovered on New Year’s Eve about 1.5km away.

Sabre had been wearing a satellite collar after he was rescued from a plantation near Tawau and released to the reserve three months ago.

Research organisation Danau Girang Field Centre director Dr Benoit Goossens said satellite data indicated Sabre was killed on Nov 21.

There are an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 pygmy elephants in Sabah’s forests.



‘Offer reward for info on elephant poachers’
The Star 4 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A reward should be offered for information leading to the capture of poachers who killed two Borneo pygmy elephants, said Datuk Wilfred Lingham.

The former state Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry permanent secretary said the bounty would encourage people to report illegal hunts.

“This will turn the tables on poachers. Let the hunters become the hunted,” he said, adding that the state wildlife department was empowered to reward anyone providing information on poachers.

Lingham believes that the poachers who killed the two bull elephants for their tusks were part of a small group.

“Also, they would likely be using modified bullets that enable maximum penetration to the heart or brain for instant death,” Lingham said.

He also said that a close watch on exit points around the state was needed because the tusks would be taken out of Sabah.

They could go through Indonesia or the Philippines bound for China, he said.

One carcass was found near the Kawag Forest Reserve on Dec 27, and the other just outside the Ulu Segama Forest Reserve on Dec 31.

The second elephant was named Sabre and wore a satellite-tracking collar; it had been relocated to the reserve about three months ago.

Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) director Dr Benoit Goosens said satellite data showed that Sabre was killed sometime on Nov 21.

DGFC is a research organisation.

Dr Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam, the state Wildlife Rescue Unit veterinarian who took part in Sabre’s rescue and relocation, said it appeared that there was no safe place for elephants in Sabah anymore.

There are an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 pygmy elephants in Sabah’s forests.


Sabah Wildlife Dept offering 'jumbo' reward for info on elephant poachers
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 5 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department is offering a RM10,000 reward for any valid information leading to the capture of poachers who killed two Borneo Pygmy Elephants, including one with a rare "sabre-tooth" appearance.

"Our investigators have some leads. We believe the reward will bring us more information,'' said its director Augustine Tuuga.

The Department has put up notices offering the reward around the Kinabatangan area where the two animals were killed, presumably for their tusks.

The carcass of the "sabre-tooth" elephant, so named because its tusks grow in a downwards arch, was found on Dec 31.

It was fitted with a satellite collar and is believed to have been killed in November in the Kawag Forest Reserve while the carcass of the other was found on Dec 27.

The elephant with the "sabre-tooth" tusks was relocated to the reserve about three months ago.


Wanted! RM10,000 reward for capture of poachers who mutilated two pygmy elephants
AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 5 Jan 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) is offering RM10,000 reward to those who can assist the department in catching the culprits responsible for the killing of two Bornean pgymy elephants, including the beloved 'Sabre' recently.

The reward money will be channelled through the State Tourism, Culture, and Environment Ministry. So far, SWD assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said no one has come forward to provide information with regards to the discovery of carcasses of the two elephants in Kinabatangan.

“We hope with this reward, it will encourage people to come forward and assist the department. “We will verify information given to us and the reward money will only be given once the culprits are charged in court and punished,” he said, adding the department is taking the case seriously.

On Dec 31, the department’s wildlife rescue unit made the discovery when searching for a pygmy elephant nicknamed 'Sabre' after it's satellite collar stopped sending signals.

Elephant bones belonging to 'Sabre' were later discovered, along with the remains of a jumbo elephant, near the Segama river in Kinabatangan – apparently killed by ivory poachers for their tusks. Based on its condition, 'Sabre' was believed to have been killed around Nov 20, but the carcass of the jumbo elephant, found 1,500 kilometres up the river, was still fresh.

The jumbo elephant had been horribly mutilated, as its entire face had been carved out, as a way to extract its tusks.

Five months ago, while rescuing and relocating a small herd of pygmy elephants out of a palm oil plantation, the wildlife rescue unit came upon a male pachyderm with bizarre-looking, downward-pointing tusks.

It resembled the now-extinct sabre-toothed tiger, something rarely, if ever, encountered – and images of the mini-elephant went viral on social media.

It was lovingly named 'Sabre' by the team, which fixed a satellite collar on it to monitor its movements and wellbeing, before releasing it into the Kawag Forest Reserve near Danum Valley.

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