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  PlanetArk 9 Aug 07
Borneo Planters, Loggers a Threat to Elephants - WWF
Story by Clarence Fernandez

Yahoo News 9 Aug 07
Habitat loss threatens pygmy elephants
By Vijay Joshi, Associated Press Writer

Satellite tracking of pygmy elephants has found that the endangered animals unique to Borneo island are under threat due to logging and commercial plantations encroaching on their habitat, conservationists said Thursday.

A World Wildlife Fund study, based on two years of satellite tracking, found that pygmy elephants thrive best in forests on flat lowlands and in river valleys the same terrain preferred by loggers and oil palm plantations.

About 40 percent of forest in the Malaysian state of Sabah, where most pygmy elephants live, has been lost to logging, conversion for plantations and human settlement over the last four decades, WWF said.

Very little was known about pygmy elephants until a chance DNA analysis in 2003 revealed them to be a distinct subspecies of Asian elephants, which triggered a new effort to conserve them.

In June 2005, the WWF set in motion a landmark project to track pygmy elephants in the rain forests of Sabah by placing collars fitted with transmitters around the necks of five elephants, known to be leaders of their herds.

The collars beamed their locations via satellite to a WWF-Malaysia computer as often as once a day in the first study of its kind, providing valuable information about the elephants' grazing habits and movement patterns.

Data gathered so far reveals there are probably not more than 1,000 pygmy elephants left in Sabah less than the 1,600 or so estimated previously.

The study revealed that pygmy elephants prefer lowland forests because there is more food of better quality.

"The areas that these elephants need to survive are the same forests where the most intensive logging in Sabah has taken place, because flatlands and valleys incur the lowest costs when extracting timber," said Raymond Alfred, head of WWF-Malaysia's Borneo Species Program.

The study also showed that elephants' movements are noticeably affected by human activities and forest disturbance. It found that some of the elephants were trekking five times as far as they normally would each day in search of food.

The loss of habitat brings them into more frequent contact with people and cultivated land, generating conflict with humans who sometimes capture or poison them to protect their farms.

While pygmy elephants can live in logged and secondary forests, it is crucial that their remaining habitat is managed in a sustainable manner and not converted into plantations, the WWF said.

Logging in elephant habitat should only occur if there is a long-term forest management plan in place, and oil palm plantations should be established on degraded, non-forested land devoid of elephants and orangutans, it said.

Malaysian officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but in the past they have accused Western activists of trying to undermine the palm oil industry by claiming that forest clearing in Malaysia and Indonesia is threatening wildlife.

The government says most palm oil plantations are established where forests have already been cleared for other crops.

Alfred said an initiative aimed at conserving 92,650 square miles of rainforest straddling the border between Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia should ensure that most herds will have a home in the long term.

Adult pygmy elephants stand up to 8 feet tall a foot or two shorter than mainland Asian elephants. They are more rotund and have smaller, babyish faces with longer tails that reach almost to the ground. They are also less aggressive than their Asian counterparts.

Though smaller than its cousins, an adult pygmy elephant can still devour up to 330 pounds of vegetation each day. One of their favorite treats is the large, thorny and pungent durian fruit, which they often roll in mud to gulp it down whole, spikes and all.

Associated Press Writer Erica Bulman in Geneva contributed to this story.

PlanetArk 9 Aug 07
Borneo Planters, Loggers a Threat to Elephants - WWF
Story by Clarence Fernandez

MALAYSIA: August 9, 2007 KUALA LUMPUR - Pygmy elephants living in dense jungles on Borneo island face a growing threat to survival as their homes get cut down for timber or plantations, pushing the animals into conflicts with humans, experts said on Thursday.

The warning is a result of Asia's largest project for the satellite tracking of elephants, in which wildlife researchers fitted five animals with radio-transmitting collars to record their wanderings, the World Wide Fund for Nature said.

There are fewer than 1,500 pygmy elephants on Borneo, and they are threatened by the loss of forests in the Malaysian state of Sabah because their huge size requires large feeding grounds and viable breeding populations, researchers said.

"The conversion of forests to plantations remains the biggest threat to Sabah's elephants, because no plantation can provide the types and amounts of foods necessary to sustain breeding populations," they said in a report published on Thursday.

Pygmy elephants are smaller and less aggressive than other Asian elephants, with shorter trunks and smaller faces that give them a rotund appearance. They are also genetically different, and never seem to have spread beyond the northeast part of Borneo to other areas of the Southeast Asian island, scientists say.

Though Sabah has lost nearly half its forest cover to plantations and human settlement over the last 40 years, it still has one of the largest contiguous areas of habitat for elephants left in Asia.

But the region, which sprawls over 600,000 to 800,000 hectares, continues to be under threat, one researcher said.

"In one day the elephant needs to have more than 200 kg of food, and if the lowland forests are converted to oil palm or other uses, that will reduce the food sources for them," said Raymond Alfred, of the WWF's Sabah project. "And we still don't know whether they will be able to adapt to the highland forest food sources."

HABITAT SHRINKS

Conflict with people is increasing as the elephants' habitat shrinks, the Fund says in the report, which draws on additional tracking efforts besides the year-long satellite study to paint an alarming picture of the situation the animals face.

About a fifth of the elephants living in one wildlife reserve, the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, have suffered gruesome injuries from illegal snares, often set by plantation workers to catch smaller game animals.

"In terms of the way the elephants react when they see people, they are more aggressive compared to the last three to five years," Alfred said.

The WWF says the elephant population can be preserved through measures such as marking out and reserving the corridors the animals use to travel through the forest and halting the trend of converting forests into plantations.

Other steps that would help include curbing disturbances from timber felling and intrusions by plantation workers, besides more surveys and satellite tracking to increase knowledge of the elephants' behaviour, the researchers said.

Forestry and wildlife officials in Sabah had agreed to help preserve the elephant's stamping grounds through sustainable management of large tracts of forest, Alfred said.

For example, the state promised last month to earmark about 180,000 hectares (444,800 acres) of forest that are crucial for the orang-utan and the rhino, as well as the elephant -- and use sustainable forestry techniques there, he added.

links
Satellite tracking reveals threats to Borneo pygmy elephants on the WWF website
Related articles on Forests
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