Malaysia: Borneo Elephant Sanctuary hits snag

Kristy Inus New Straits Times 5 Apr 12;

SHORTAGE: There is only one expert in Sabah to train elephants

THE Borneo Elephant Wildlife Sanctuary, which was expected to be ready by the middle of the year for the Borneo Pygmy elephants and other wildlife driven from their habitat, has hit a snag.

There is a shortage of experts to train the elephants.

In fact, there is only one specialist in the state.

He is Sabah Wildlife Department's elephant trainer Jibius Dausip, who is now tasked with recruiting and training mahouts.

Jibius, 48, from Tambunan, who had more than 20 years experience taking care of elephants, said he had seen many of his peers give up their careers as mahouts because it took a lot of sacrifice and dedication.

A mahout needs years of training and is expected to spend long periods away from his family while staying in the remote wilds of Sabah, including at wildlife reserves such as Tabin in Lahad Datu.

While training was mainly done with the elephants rehabilitated at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, Jibius said the job went beyond normal working hours as he resided in the Park, always on standby in case of emergencies.

"Elephants are huge but shy creatures and not everyone can handle them.

"That is why you need to create a special bond with each individual elephant.

"This, of course, requires spending a lot of time together.

"I guess I am still in this business because I love working with elephants," said Jibius, who was trained in Thailand and Europe before coming home to Sabah to help train the locals.

Sabah Wildlife Department senior veterinarian Dr Sen Nathan, who is also officer in charge of Lok Kawi Wildfire Park, said there were three full-fledged mahouts and five mahouts-in-training.

There are currently 16 elephants, including calves at the Park, with the youngest being a 6-month-old female calf named Ruandu, recently rescued from Tawau.

"The ideal situation is one mahout to one elephant as they have to develop a close relationship. But we cannot accommodate that under the current situation.

"We need more local talents once the BEWS initiative starts in July. We expect to have 15 working staff, including mahouts.

"The department did consider taking mahouts from Thailand or India but we prefer to take locals," Dr Sen said.

SWD director Dr Laurentius Ambu said earlier news reports had said that Malaysian Palm Oil Council would allocate an initial funding of RM5 million for BEWS while several non-governmental organisations from Japan had pledged RM1.5 million.

The Borneo Pygmy elephant situation in Sabah is critical as there are only about 2,000 animals left in the wild, and an estimated 60 to 100 elephants are waiting to be rescued from remote areas.