World

Pygmy elephants targeted by poachers for their ivory

Sabah minister wants wildlife department to get tough with hunters after recent spate of killings

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah woke up to the New Year and a new reality - that its critically endangered Borneo pygmy elephants are being hunted for their ivory.

In 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, including one discovered in the east coast Kinabatangan area last October that was not made public.

A saddened but irate State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister 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 Mr 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, these 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.

In a statement, Kinabatangan-based Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and Wildlife Rescue Unit 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.

RELOCATED

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 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.

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

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