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Yayasan Sime Darby Commits RM3.36 Million for the Conservation of Malaysian Elephants

 

PULAU BANDING, GERIK, 20 May 2013 – Malaysian elephants have declined in numbers due to drastic habitat loss and conflicts with farmers in recent decades.

As their numbers continue to dwindle, the fight for their survival has gained international attention with global efforts being initiated to arrest the possibility of the Malaysian elephants going extinct.

Alarmed by this plight, Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) has committed RM3.36 million in support of the Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME) project by the School of Geography of The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC).

YSD’s funding for this five-year project began in 2012 and it will include studies on the effectiveness of current elephant management policies in Peninsular Malaysia whilst developing practical long-term management strategies based on the scientific understanding of the ecology and behaviour of the elephants. MEME also aims to build capacity within the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and Malaysian academic circles to produce a generation of wildlife researchers and managers knowledgeable in these studies.

Apart from monitoring to improve current management techniques, the project will also capitalise on existing data and analyse the immediate and mid-term behavioural response of elephants to translocation.

The study of Malaysian elephants is crucial as not much is known of their ecology, behaviour, distribution, ecological role, and most importantly to find ways to mitigate the widespread human-elephant conflict which could promote elephant conservation and reduce the negative impact on local communities.

YSD Governing Council Member Caroline Christine Russell said it was necessary to monitor what transpired after these animals are translocated.

“In other parts of the world where translocation of elephants is practised as a mitigating measure against Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC), scientists have questioned its effectiveness due to observed high death rates and competition for resources and space at the release site. Translocated elephants have also been observed travelling back to their capture sites or their original home range, hampering the original objective of translocating them in the first place,” she said.

In addition, the reduced numbers and eventual extinction of Malaysian elephants would also have a dire impact on the natural ecology of the forest. Elephants, like many other large plant-eating mammals, play an important role modifying the vegetation structure and dispersing seeds in the forest while their dung is beneficial for nutrient cycling.

Caroline also expressed YSD’s concern about threats to the Belum Temengor forest complex, significant parts of which are not fully protected and continue to be logged and converted for other land uses.

“There needs to be a concerted effort towards gazetting the entire forest stretch as a State Park to protect it from further development. Once the forest is damaged, there is no way we can turn back the clock.

“This is a serious threat to all the animals which call it their home and I am hoping that all of you will help us highlight this,” she added.

The project also provides employment opportunities for local research officers and field assistants. MEME currently employs staff from the Orang Asli communities to tap their expertise and knowledge of the animal and its habitat in the forests of Peninsular Malaysia in Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu and Johor.

Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, an Associate Professor at the Lab of Tropical Conservation Ecology, School of Geography, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, heads the MEME project.

“Peninsular Malaysia may become one of the last strongholds for Asian elephants in Southeast Asia. With approximately 40% of the area covered by well-conserved forest, including the largest protected area (Taman Negara National Park) containing the largest elephant population (~ 600 elephants) in the region, low human density, a very developed economy, and a functional Department of Wildlife and National Parks the long-term conservation of Malaysian elephants, depends completely on social and political will. With our project, we intend to contribute the know-how and provide data to aid the authorities to undertake evidence-based elephant conservation”.

MEME also offers three PhD scholarships supervised by Dr. Campos-Arceiz, in the non-invasive monitoring of elephant stress levels, the development of genetic molecular tools to study elephant populations in tropical rainforests, and the characterisation and mitigation of HEC. These scholarships are designed to build a pool of local experts in wildlife management. Furthermore, the PhD on HEC will also provide the opportunity for researchers to study elephant movement at Sime Darby Plantation’s estates and assess if elephant encounters are cause for concern. Sime Darby Plantation has recorded elephant encounters since 2009 in several estates in Peninsular Malaysia.

The PhD tuition fees will be partially sponsored by UNMC besides providing administrative and financial support services towards the project.

In her speech, UNMC Chief Executive Officer and Provost Professor Christine Ennew said UNMC’s collaboration with YSD will greatly benefit elephant conservation efforts, in addition to increasing new data and research for the academic fraternity.

“We are indeed delighted to work with YSD on this project and I believe with our global research expertise and experience we can ensure the successful delivery of this project. This is an excellent example of collaboration in research and knowledge transfer between a leading Malaysian company with global operations and an international university in conservation efforts which will ultimately benefit local communities,” she said.

Dato' Seri Zoal Azha Yusof, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Malaysia said the MEME project is an important effort to assist the government and enhance the conservation and management of elephants in Malaysia.

"This project, which is a smart collaboration between the corporate sector, private university and the government, is a success story to boost further collaborative efforts to conserve our rich biodiversity," he said.

He thanked Yayasan Sime Darby and University of Nottingham Malaysia for collaborating with the Ministry through the Department of Wildlife and National Parks on the project which will generate much needed scientific information which could be used to make the necessary policy interventions on elephant conservation in the country. He highlighted that the launching of the MEME Project was also in conjunction with the national celebration of the International Day for Biodiversity which falls on 22 May every year.

The MEME project is one of YSD’s many programmes under its Environment pillar. Other projects include the Restoration and Protection of Orang Utan Habitats in the Northern Ulu Segama Forest Reserve, Conservation of the Proboscis Monkey in Sabah, the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE), UKM-YSD Chair for Sustainable Development – Zero Waste Technology for the Palm Oil Industry, UKM-YSD Chair for Climate Change and the Borneo Rhinoceros Sanctuary.


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Last Updated:
13 Dec 2017
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