Thursday, January 31, 2013

Borneo Pygmy Elephant Death Toll Hits 14 in Sabah

Four more Borneo pygmy elephants were found dead in a protected forest in Sabah, Malaysia—bringing the total to 14—as a wildlife official said that they may have been killed by poison.

"We suspect poison was spread over the area by plantation workers," the head of the Sabah Wildlife Department, Laurentius Ambu, told The Wall Street Journal Wednesday. "We are waiting for lab results to determine if the elephants died of poisoning or bacterial infection."

Authorities are talking to plantation workers at Sri Jaya Industries as part of the probe, he said. But Hiew Yin Foh, general manager of the company, whose 9,000 hectares of land include nearly 5,000 planted with oil palm, told The Wall Street Journal that his workers are not involved.

"We always have elephants coming to the fringes of our plantation," he said. "We leave them alone, because they never encroach into our areas…. We love elephants. We do not poison animals."

Officials from the Sabah Wildlife Department, the police and some nongovernmental organizations are investigating the tragedy, which is drawing global attention because only about 1,500 Borneo elephants are alive in the world, including some 1,000 in the state of Sabah in Malaysia's eastern tip. An endangered species, the elephant is protected under Malaysia's Wildlife Conservation Enactment; those found guilty of hunting or killing them are subject to a fine, five years' imprisonment or both.

Mr. Ambu said he expects to find more dead elephants, and has sent out eight wildlife workers to search a section of the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve where the elephants were found. The dead were part of a herd of about 400 that roams the section.

Pressure for land in Sabah is high. Two palm-oil plantations—including Sri Jaya Industries—and a logging company operate near where the Borneo elephants were found dead.

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