Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Journey to Save the Bornean Elephant (Part 1)

Reducing Human – elephants’ conflicts by understanding the elephants’ needs

KOTA KINABALU: Scientific information is extremely important and valuable for both conservation managers and research scientists in their effort to manage and save the Bornean elephants.

According to Borneo Conservation Trust (BCT) conservation and research head, Raymond Alfred, who has been studying the movement of the species for more than 10 years, the scientific information is often used to direct daily activities by those in the field.

Additionally, the information is also useful during land use planning process, as research scientists will use the information to formulate hypotheses which they will test by undertaking further research, he said.

“I spent more than 10 years gathering key information on the Bornean elephant’s habitat ecology, population status, as well as their feeding behavior with the aim of providing this information and prepare guidelines to the future generation especially Sabahan so that they would be able to save the species from further extinction,” he said.

Among the major threats facing the Bornean elephants presently are the degradation and fragmentation of their habitat, which incidentally raises their risk of genetic isolation from other elephants’ population, particularly when their traditional seasonal migratory routes are blocked.

The blockage also encourages the impoverishment and stochastic extinction of the species.

Aside from that, Raymond also found that the home range of elephants residing in fragmented forests or habitat tend to be larger compared to those living in intact and contiguous forest landscape.

He cited the elephants’ population at the Lower Kinabatangan as an example of elephants living in fragmented forests.

The population at the Lower Kinabatangan has been separated from the main elephants’ population at Sabah’s central forest for 30 years as their traditional migratory routes have been blocked by the development of large scale plantations including the main Sandakan-Lahad Satu Road.

“My finding clearly showed that the size of the home range of the elephant herds in the central forest (non-fragmented forests) is smaller (300 km2) than the home ranging of the elephant herds in the fragmented forests. Human activities and forest disturbances have a measureable impact on the elephants’ movement.”

In continuous forest landscape, the movement rate of the elephant herds was about one kilometer to two kilometers daily but in fragmented forests such as the Lower Kinabatangan, the elephants have a higher movement rate of between five kilometers and nine kilometers daily.

The home range of elephants’ population living in fragmented forests recorded was more than 700 square kilometers.

Raymond blamed the mass difference to the elephant habitat fragmentation.

Incidentally, the fragmentation of elephants’ habitat has also led to the increasing number of human – elephant conflicts at the Lower Kinabatangan, he said.

He said that the herds were found to cover greater distances under three circumstances:

1) When the elephants were affected by elephant control activities’ such as the use of firecrackers and drums to scare them off the plantations;

2) When the elephants enter unsuitable forest habitats such as swamp areas and upland forest probably due to limited food resources; and

3) When elephants were forced to travel through narrow habitat corridors, sometimes as narrow as 30 to 50 meters along rivers that were bordered by oil palm plantations.

To counter the issues faced by the elephants, Raymond stressed the need to establish forest corridors or to strengthen existing ones.

“The corridors don’t necessarily have to be established at prime elephant habitats. It could be established at degraded forests areas to facilitate and not restrict the elephant movement. Additionally, the corridor will also provide the elephants with some cover,” he said.

He also stressed that the forest corridors need to be properly designed and managed as this will help minimize the elephants’ ranging distance as well as decrease human – elephants’ conflicts.

He also mentioned that some of the forests corridors that have already been established in Gunung Rara and several other areas by the plantations were not suitable as the elephants’ migration route as they were not wide enough.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: A Journey to Save the Bornean Elephant (Part 1)