Malaysia: Elephants losing its tusks to live

Roy Goh New Straits Times 5 Sep 19;

KOTA KINABALU: Elephants in Sabah are evolving to lose their tusks to survive, a phenomenon that is also happening in other parts of the world.

Sightings of such tusk-less bull Bornean pygmy elephants are getting more common and a senior veterinarian believes more research needs to be done on the phenomenon and its implications.

Sabah Wildlife department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said it used to be rare, seeing a tusk-less male, but these days it's becoming common.

"I have been involved in trans-locating elephants for more than 20 years and other senior colleagues dealt with the animal longer, more than 30 years, and now, we see this phenomenon becoming more common.

"Seeing elephants with tusks measuring close to two metres was common before but not these days.

"Heavy poaching pressure seems to have caused the Bornean elephants to lose their tusks," Sen said.

"This is something we would like to analyse further and get more data.

"This phenomenon is not only occurring here in Borneo but also among herds in African and Asian elephant range countries. One good example would be Sri Lanka where more than 90% of their bull elephants are tusk-less," he said.

Sen revealed this after a tour operator, River Junkie, posted a photograph of a tusk-less bull elephant spotted by its guests in Danum Valley on social media recently.

"A sad fact but also quite interesting to see how nature evolves for survival," he said.

He said studies have shown despite the human-influenced tusk-less phenomenon in recent decades, elephants missing their tusks are surviving and appear healthy, but more research needs to be done on its implications.

There are 1,500 elephants estimated in Sabah, spread in several ranges in central and the east coast of the state.

Elephants in Sabah are in constant threat from poachers, those involved in the ivory trade and forest fragmentation caused by agricultural activities.

In Jan 2017, just months after the wildlife authorities revealed a rare find of a bull elephant with reverse tusks, it was found dead.

The bull elephant named "Sabre" was mutilated for its tusks, asserting the threat of poachers in the state.

The launch of the special anti-poaching unit by the Sabah Forestry department recently is among steps taken by the government to counter such threats in the state.