Masidi: Death of 10 elephants is saddest day for conservation efforts in Sabah

The Star 30 Jan 13;

The only elephant to have been found alive, a 3-month-old named Kejora, seen here next to its at the side of its dead mother’s carcass. New Straits Times

KOTA KINABALU: The discovery of the deaths of 10 Borneo pygmy elephants in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve was the saddest day for Sabah's conservation efforts.

“This is a very sad day for conservation and Sabah. The death of these majestic and severely endangered Bornean elephants is a great loss to the state,” Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said.

“Though it might be too early to pinpoint a conclusive cause of death, poisoning seems to be the likely cause,” he said.

Masidi said he had directed Sabah Wildlife Department to set up a joint task force with relevant stakeholders such as the Forestry Department, Yayasan Sabah, WWF and police to further investigate these deaths and to get to the bottom of it.

“If indeed these poor elephants were maliciously poisoned I will make sure that the culprits are brought to justice and pay for their crime ” Masidi added.

Elephants are known to roam into plantations and villages where they cause severe losses to the owners.

Sabah Wildlife Department is usually called in to help in steering the elephants away from such places and in some cases they are moved to other forest reserves.

However, some people affected have resorted to poisoning the elephants to stop their menace and among the methods used are pesticides including rat poisons over the years.

State Wildlife director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said that they were scouring the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve area as well as places adjacent to it to see if any pesticides were used to kill the elephants.

Vet witnesses elephant calf tugging at its dead mother
Muguntan Vanar The Star 30 Jan 13;

KOTA KINABALU: It was a heart wrenching sight for veterinarian Dr Sen Nathan when he saw a Borneo pygmy elephant calf tugging at its mother which lay dead at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve in Sabah's east coast Tawau district.

The Sabah Wildlife Department veterinarian witnessed this while investigating the “mysterious” deaths of 10 elephants seven females and three males at Forest Management Unit (FMU) 23, a Yayasan Sabah concession area in the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve about 130km from Tawau.

“I felt sad, I don't have the words to describe my feelings,” he said, adding that the three-month-old male calf named Kejora was sent to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo yesterday where staff are taking care of it including bottle feeding it.

The dead elephants aged between four-years-old to around 20 were discovered between Dec 29 and Jan 24 at a logging area between the famed Danum Valley and Maliau Basin in the south-eastern side of the central region of Sabah.

He said the area the elephants were found dead had about 1,000 of Sabah's estimated 2,000 pygmy elephant population.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said poisoning may be the main cause for the deaths of the elephants which they believed belonged to a single herd.

“Post mortem was done on all of them and it looks like their gastro-intestinal tract had severe haemorrhages and ulceration with some bleeding from the mouth and anus,” said Dr Ambu.

“We suspect that it might be some form of acute poisoning from something that they had eaten (natural toxins or pesticides) but we are still waiting for the laboratory results of the chemical analysis from samples taken from the dead elephants to confirm the diagnosis,” he added.

Ambu said that the first report of the dead was made on Tuesday after WWF field officers carrying wildlife survey came to know of the death from workers about 5km from the gates of Syarikat Empayar Kejora Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary company of Yayasan Sabah.

He said that they could have consumed the poison elsewhere and walked several kilometres before collapsing in various areas close to the Empayar Kejora area.

“We believe that all the deaths of these elephants are related.

“We have stationed our team there to check the area and to further investigate if there are any more elephants involved,” he added.

Jumbos believed poisoned
Roy Goh New Straits Times 30 Jan 13;

10 DEAD: All were found to have badly damaged internal organs

KOTA KINABALU: A TRAIL of 10 dead elephants in one of the last bastions for the species in Sabah has raised concerns on how far people will go to protect their interest.

Carcasses of the Bornean pygmy elephants from a single herd were found near a logging camp and an oil palm plantation not far from the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, about 130km from Tawau, between Dec 29 and Jan 25.

The elephants were believed to have been poisoned with a rat poison-like chemical, large amounts of which may have been used in areas where they feed on.

Only a 3-month-old male baby elephant was found alive next to its mother and promptly sent to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near here.

The odds of the elephant surviving, however, remained slim as it was still nursing from its mother.

Sabah Wildlife department director Datuk Laurentius Ambu yesterday said the discovery was disturbing because of the large number that were found dead.

"We are on the lookout if there could be more in the area, which is part of the Forest Management Unit concession held by Yayasan Sabah."

The 100,000ha concession area, between the Danum Valley and Maliau Basin Conservation Areas, accounts for nearly 1,000 or half the elephant population in the state.

Laurentius said the family of elephants live within a 400km square area.

"The dead elephants, three males and seven females, were found within an area of about 10 sq km radius but it may have consumed the poison elsewhere before dying near the logging camp."

A post-mortem have been conducted on most of the carcasses and senior veterinarian Dr Sen Nathan said all were found with badly damaged internal organs.

"There were no signs of external injuries such as gunshots or cuts.

"We have sent samples to the Chemistry Department as well as to the Veterinary Services Department to check on the possibility of bacterial infection.

"The livers were enlarge or inflamed, the lungs congested and there was internal bleeding in the intestines."

A task force made up of the Wildlife Department, Forestry Department, police, Yayasan Sabah and World Wildlife Fund has been formed to probe the findings.

Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Masidi Manjun expressed shock on the death of the elephants.

"This is a very sad day for conservation and Sabah."

Borneo pygmy elephants feared poisoned in Malaysia: officials
Angie Teo PlanetArk 30 Jan 13;

Ten endangered Borneo pygmy elephants found dead in a Malaysian rainforest in recent weeks may have been poisoned by something they ate, wildlife officials said on Tuesday.

Four elephants were first reported dead on January 23 and another four were found dead two days later in the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, located in Malaysia's Sabah state on Borneo Island.

The eight dead elephants were suspected to be linked with "two highly decomposed elephant carcasses" found earlier this year, said Laurentius Ambu, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department.

A department veterinarian said no obvious external injuries were found on the animals, but they suffered from severe hemorrhages and ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract.

"We highly suspect that it might be some form of acute poisoning from something that they had eaten, but we are still waiting for the laboratory results of the chemical analysis from samples taken from the dead elephants to confirm the diagnosis," senior veterinarian Sen Nathan said in a statement.

Seven of the dead elephants were females and three were males, ranging from 4 years old to around 20, the statement said.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates there are fewer than 1,500 Borneo pygmy elephants found in the wild, with most of them residing in Sabah state. The elephant is smaller than other Asian elephants and their African relatives with larger ears and a gentle nature.

Officials declined to make further comment while the incidents were still under investigation by a special force set up to determine the cause of the deaths.

(Reporting by Angie Teo in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alden Bentley)

Three more elephants found dead
The Star 31 Jan 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Three more endangered Borneo pygmy elephant bodies were found in the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, raising the death toll to 13.

State Tourism, Culture and Envi­ronment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun confirmed the latest discovery of a male and two female decomposing bodies in the area where 10 others were found since Dec 29.

There is a possibility that more may be found as wildlife officials believe that all the 13 elephants and a rescued calf were part of a single herd.

They are believed to have consumed some form of natural or pesticide poison while roaming in the Yayasan Sabah forest management unit 23 (FM23) that is locked between Sabah’s Maliau Basin and Danum Valley forest reserves.

Masidi said that there was growing suspicion of foul play in their deaths.

“No amount of laws and enforcement can be effective if people do not have the sense of responsibility that these animals belong to the people,” he said yesterday.

He has ordered his ministry’s permanent secretary Datuk Michael Emban to take over as chairman of the special task force set up to investigate the deaths, which have been dubbed a “conservationist nightmare”.

Meanwhile, the Sabah Wildlife Department is waiting for a chemist report on the possible causes of the elephant deaths.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman said the deaths of the elephants were “unacceptable”.

“I want no stone left unturned in this matter. The culprits must be brought to justice,” he said in a statement.

Musa said the state government viewed the matter seriously as Borneo pygmy elephants were an endangered species and were part of Sabah’s rich and exotic wildlife.

“People come from all over the world just to catch a glimpse of these animals. It is unfortunate that there are people who would resort to such a horrific act,” he added.

Calf not out of woods yet
Muguntan Vanar The Star 31 Jan 13;

KOTA KINABALU: The three month-old Borneo pygmy elephant calf, the sole survivor of a herd that was killed from suspected poisoning, is in good health although it is not out of the woods yet.

Named “Joe” by Wildlife Rescue Unit personnel, the calf, which was photographed trying to wake his dead mother up at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve on Jan 25, has been kept in quarantine and under watch by veterinarians and Lok Kawi Zoo personnel.

WRU veterinarian Dr Diana Raminez described the calf as bright, alert and active.

“These are good signs but he has to be watched for two weeks before he is out of any immediate danger,” she said.

One problem is that the 106kg calf has not been consuming enough milk possibly due to the stress of losing its mother and the 800km road journey to the Lok Kawi Zoo here.

Dr Raminez said a normal calf would consume 20 to 30 litres of milk daily.

But Joe is only taking half of that, she said, adding that it was bottle-fed every two hours.

“We don’t know if he might also have been affected by the poisoning,” she added.

She said the calf had also consumed its mother’s faeces, which is said to be normal behaviour, and there were signs that Joe’s weight had dropped by 10kg.

Dr Raminez, a Mexican working with the WRU, said Joe had become close to his carers, rangers Augustine David and Jibius Dausip, who were feeding him, and was behaving normally as he was curious about his new environment.

Initially called Kejora (which sounds feminine), he has been renamed Joe by the rangers.

He is the sole survivor from a herd of elephants found dead at Gunung Rara Forest Reserve about 130km from Tawau, Sabah.

The deaths are believed to have been caused by some form of poisoning, with post-mortem reports showing the intestinal tracts and other internal organs badly damaged.

While waiting for the chemist report to identify the type of poisoning, the Sabah Wildlife Department has set up a task force to investigate the deaths.

Dr Raminez said the chemist report would help determine the way Joe was treated.

Experts believe sprayed pesticides could not have caused the deaths, speculating that the elephants’ food source or known watering holes might have been poisoned.

Three more found dead
Joniston Bangkuai and Roy Goh New Straits Times 31 Jan 13;

ELEPHANT DEATHS: Task force discovers them while retracing route of dead herd

KOTA KINABALU: THREE more carcasses of the Bornean pygmy elephants were found yesterday near a forest reserve in Tawau where 10 were found dead earlier.

Members of a special task force assigned by the state Wildlife Department to probe the deaths were led to the latest finding after they caught a whiff of the foul smell while retracing the route the herd was known to follow.

The 10 dead elephants found earlier were discovered within the family's habitat measuring about 400 sq km in the area near the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, which sits between the Danum Valley and Maliau Basin Conservation areas, from Dec 29 to Jan 25.

However, a 3-month-old male baby elephant was found alive next to its mother and has been sent to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near here.

State Wildlife director Datuk Laurentius Ambu said the latest discovery was made less than 2km from where some of the carcasses were found by the combined team of wildlife rangers, staff from Yayasan Sabah, police, World Wildlife Fund and Forestry department.

"The team has begun combing the route frequented by the family and it confirms our earlier fears that more may have died," he said on the deaths which they believe could have been caused by poisoning.

The unit will continue following the route and this includes checking on a nearby plantation, a logging camp and part of the forest reserve which is also within the Yayasan Sabah Forest Management Unit concession area of about 100,000 hectares.

Laurentius had said the area where the dead elephants were found has one of the highest concentrations of the unique Bornean pygmy elephants.

The carcasses found within a 10km radius earlier were of three males and seven females.

"We are not able to tell much about the three latest findings because they were highly decomposed, but they probably died about the same time as the others and were likely from the same herd."

Post-mortem on the carcasses found earlier showed badly damaged internal organs.

Samples has been sent to the Chemistry Department for further analysis and the Veterinary Services Department to check on the possibility of bacterial infection.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman has described the deaths of the elephants as unacceptable and has directed the state Wildlife and Forestry departments to conduct an investigation.

"I want no stone left unturned in the investigation. The culprits must be brought to justice."

Members of the tourism industry in Sabah have also come forward to offer a RM10,000 reward for information.