ELEPHANTS in Malaysia have lost nearly 70 percent of their roaming territory in human-dominated landscapes in the country over the past 35 years, according to a study on the “alarming rate” of encroachment into wildlife territory.
Caroline Christine Russell, council member of the the Sime Darby Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of the Malaysia-based multinational conglomerate Sime Darby Berhad, said the research carried out by the Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME) project also recorded significant findings on the behaviour and ecology of the Asian elephant in forested areas of Malaysia, as well as their interactions with people.
“Unfortunately, we still do not know well their distribution in non-human dominated landscapes, such as forest reserves and protected areas,” she said during the MEME funding extension announcement earlier this week.
“We need urgent solutions and initiatives to stop the decrease of wildlife populations in Malaysia, including elephants, before it is too late. We also need better baseline data to monitor the status of their population in the long term,” she said.
She said alarmingly, conservationists started the new year with jarring news of the poaching of two Pygmy Elephants roaming protected areas in the eastern state of Sabah.
Last month, she pointed out, Indonesian authorities seized ivory worth RM30,000 (US$6,700) in North Kalimantan, believed to be from Malaysia.
“Poaching appears to be an emerging threat to the Asian elephant population in Malaysia, a grave concern for all,” she said.
She added that there is a vital need for increased patrolling and law enforcement to curb the poaching threat.
“We all have to work together to achieve this objective, which is to save our elephants,” she said.
In an effort to save the gentle giants, the foundation is extending support for the MEME project with a RM1.9 million commitment for another three years from January this year until December 2019.
The foundation said this is the sixth year of support for the MEME project to preserve Asian elephants in Malaysia. YSD first sponsored the MEME project in January 2012, committing RM3.36 million until December 2016.
The project is headed by University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences Associate Professor Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz with assistance from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Peninsular Malaysia (Perhilitan).
Dr Campos-Arceiz said the extended sponsorship will assist MEME to fund their research team, field equipment as well as field operations.
“Since 2011, MEME is generating a large amount of novel information on the ecology and conservation of elephants in Peninsular Malaysia, including information on the distribution of elephants in human-dominated landscapes, elephant diet and movements in fragmented landscapes, their ecological importance for the maintenance of forest ecosystems, and the effectiveness of different strategies for the mitigation of human-elephant conflicts.
“This extended sponsorship is very important for MEME because it will allow us to complete our ongoing research as well as use this newly generated information to advise policy-makers and create public awareness for the conservation of these magnificent animals in Malaysia,” he said.
Professor Claire O’Malley, UNMC’s Vice-Provost for Research, said: “The University of Nottingham is proud of MEME, one of our most visible and potentially impactful research projects.”
One of MEME’s objectives is capacity building and training the next generation of elephant researchers and conservationists in Malaysia, which has been made possible through YSD’s funding.
UNMC student Dr Ee Phin Wong recently obtained her PhD for the non-invasive study of stress in wild elephant. Dr Wong is now Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.
Two other students – Hii Ning and Ange Tan – have received their Masters in Research for the study of elephant social behaviour and distribution, respectively. By the end of 2019, it is expected that MEME will have trained five PhD and three post graduates by Research Malaysian students.
The team has also played an important role in the drafting of the Malaysian National Conservation and Action Plan (NECAP), which was launched in 2013, and is one of the key members of MyGajah, the steering committee that oversees NECAP’s implementation.
Under its environment pillar, to date, the foundation has committed RM130 million towards the protection of high conservation value ecosystems, vulnerable and endangered species as well as initiatives promoting the preservation of the environment and biodiversity.