Can Malaysia’s new leaders stop the slaughter of pygmy elephants and other wildlife in Sabah?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:31pm

Pygmy elephant populations have fallen due to the lack of effective government protection, so it came as no surprise to Friends of the Earth Malaysia when six pygmy elephants were recently slaughtered. As in many other cases, the investigation remains unresolved. As critically endangered as the pygmy elephants are, the stakes for this species are too high for such incidents to happen again.

The same can be said for the many other animal species fighting to survive in Sabah, plagued by palm oil production. Sadly, Malaysia is sacrificing its elephants and other wildlife for palm oil.

The industry recognises the high demand and huge profits associated with palm oil. With expanding deforestation and the proliferation of oil palm plantations, elephants struggle to find food and are forced to feed on the fruits of the oil palm. Considered a pest or threat to palm oil production, the elephants are subject to the retribution of producers. Every year, animals across Sabah’s elephant home ranges are found either shot dead or poisoned, and the public often hears nothing about it.

Palm oil is cheap, but it’s also an eco-disaster

The previous government clearly did not take effective action to prevent the deaths of pygmy elephants or hold anyone accountable. Moreover, it did not have the political will to adopt more drastic actions affecting big logging companies and plantations. An action plan for the conservation of the Bornean elephant has yet to be implemented.

But there is a glimmer of hope now that the government has changed hands, and Friends of the Earth Malaysia is delighted to learn of the resolve of Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal in taking action to stop more unnecessary deaths among Sabah’s wildlife.

To save pygmy elephants, the Sabah forest must be restored. At the very least, wildlife corridors must be created to allow elephants to move from one fragmented patch of forest to another, to keep them from becoming trapped in a forest island. Other measures include curbing oil palm plantations and creating more national parks.

S.M. Mohd Idris, president, Friends of the Earth Malaysia, Penang