Landowners in Sabah should be held liable if elephants die on their land

ASEAN+ May 23, 2018 18:14

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Kota Kinabalu - Landowners should be held accountable if an elephant dies on their land.

This is one proposal by WWF-Malaysia, in response to the alarming finding of six carcasses of Borneo elephants in eastern Sabah within six weeks. 

The conservation NGO underlined that this proposal was actually first brought up by Sabah's Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, when an amendment to the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 was suggested.

This provision will reverse the burden of proof, which would no longer lie with the prosecutors. 

“Industries and landowners need to be held more accountable for the death of elephants on their land. With more accountability, we believe that the industry players will be more inclined to take necessary measures to prevent elephant deaths as well as to conserve this iconic species,” stressed WWF-Malaysia Executive Director / CEO, Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma.

However, the NGO also recognises that more analysis is needed to decide whether the amendment will be effective in the long run. 

The background to this issue is the expansion of oil palm plantations in Sabah, eating into the natural forest habitat of the elephants.

This has resulted in "human elephant conflicts", as the euphemism goes.

In real life, what this means is that elephants may be shot or poisoned because they are deemed a pest when they enter plantation areas in search of food.

In August 2017, a video on the Danau Girang Field Centre’s Facebook page showed a Bornean pygmy elephant struggling for its life after being shot several times in an oil palm plantation near the Malua Forest Reserve in eastern Sabah.

Concerned plantation workers could only watch helplessly.

The elephant had a calf, which could be heard wailing for its mother, as it hid in the forest from the workers. 

The elephant died and the calf disappeared.

New Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal has made this a political issue.

On Monday (May 21), he ordered a probe into the six elephant deaths and said that despite claims of solutions from the previous Barisan Nasional state government, such deaths are still occurring.

“Perhaps, the previous government did not have the political will to push through more drastic actions that would affect big logging companies and plantations?” the Parti Warisan Sabah president said.

Today (May 23), State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Christina Liew said that Sabah will increase the number of wildlife rangers at plantations bordering forest reserves watch out for endangered animals in the wild.

WWF-Malaysia commends Sabah’s Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal’s recent orders for a probe on the elephant deaths. 

"His strong stance on the matter and calls for a thorough investigation will certainly help in finding a solution to the increasing issue of human elephant conflict in the state," they said.

WWF-Malaysia added that the recent deaths of Borneo elephants in Sabah is perhaps the wakeup call needed to view elephant deaths in a more serious manner. 

"Stronger and more effective measures need to be put in place," said the NGO.