Baby elephant rescued from Tawau palm oil plantation

Julia Chan
The baby elephant found in Brumas, Tawau, on July 10 2018 was weakened but not aggressive when approached by wildlife rangers. — Picture courtesy of witnesses

KOTA KINABALU, July 11 — Wildlife authorities have rescued an elephant calf, among the youngest they have come across, in a human-elephant conflict area in Tawau.

The young male jumbo, estimated to be less than a year old, was wandering alone at about 3pm yesterday when it was found by plantation workers in the Brumas oil palm area, who alerted their managers and called the authorities to rescue the animal.

Witnesses said that the animal was weak and seemed tired, but it was not aggressive when a team from the Sabah Wildlife Department came to take it away.

The elephant calf is currently under the care of wildlife rangers at the department’s Tawau base.

“The elephant found is very small and young, probably a few months and definitely less than a year. It will need a lot of attention and care if it is to survive,” said the source.

It has yet to be decided where the elephant calf will be kept, as it cannot be returned to the wild with an unfamiliar herd.

An elephant calf found alone is usually not a good sign for the species, indicating that its herd is either dead or faced some conflict that caused the calf to end up alone.

The Brumas area where the calf was found has experienced elephant encounters before, including an attack by a rogue bull elephant two years ago.

Oil palm plantations in the area also regularly report the presence of elephants despite a wildlife corridor that sometimes pose a danger to the crops and occasionally, the residents.

The east coast and interior of Sabah has seen an increase of human-wildlife conflict due to the rapid pace of development and land clearing.

In between 2013 and 2016, 15 orphaned baby elephants were found on their own in Tawau, Lahad Datu, Telupid, Kinabatangan and Sandakan — areas known as a hotbed of human-elephant conflicts.  

The Sabah Wildlife Department is currently under scrutiny following reports of an ill-managed Lok Kawi Wildlife Park where rehabilitated animals are kept, including 16 elephants.

The recent death of two of its captive elephants — a 15-year-old and a three-year-old calf — raised concerns about the department’s capability of looking after Sabah’s endangered animals.

Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Christina Liew said there was no conclusive cause of death except that the animals were sick and “not expected to live long”.

Sabah’s endemic elephant population has been dwindling. There are an estimated 1,500 Borneo Pygmy elephants left in the wild.

This year alone, 16 deaths were reported to authorities, with six of those in the last two months.

Liew said that post-mortem reports showed that they had died of an unknown disease, with no discernible external wounds.