The Johor Elephant Sanctuary (JES) is playing an important role in reducing the number of human-elephant conflicts in the state.
JES, Malaysia's second elephant sanctuary, also serves as a tourist attraction for animal enthusiasts who want to get up close and personal with the jumbos.
It also acts as a training facility for wild elephants to keep them away from human-populated regions.
Salman Saaban, director of the Johor Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan), said the Perhilitan sanctuary in Kota Tinggi, built at a cost of RM15 million, had been operational since December last year.
“We currently have 13 trained Perhilitan staff who care for three elephants in the sanctuary,” he told StarMetro, adding that the team was trained at the Kuala Gandah National Elephant Conservation Centre in Lanchang, Pahang.
The most recent 72.9ha sanctuary, located along Jalan Lombong near the famous Kota Tinggi Waterfall in Johor, was designed to house up to 15 elephants at a time.
“We have identified several phases under JES, and our main priority is to educate the public, particularly those living in villages near the sanctuary, while also focusing on elephant training,” Salman explained.
“According to the response received, locals and plantation owners are supportive of the establishment of a sanctuary here because it will serve to safeguard both animals and humans.”
He emphasised that Perhilitan's efforts to engage with more villagers and plantation owners in the eastern and central parts of Johor had hit a snag as a result of the movement control order.
“Around 120 to 160 wild elephants roam the dense forested areas of the state, particularly in Segamat, Kluang, Mersing, and Kota Tinggi.”
Elephants, the world's largest land mammals, usually travel in herds from one location to another in search of food.
“It is preferable for humans to keep away from them and not irritate them,” he added, adding that the majority of the wild elephants at the refuge were young jumbos who had ventured into populated areas after being left behind by the herd.
The elephants will be released back into the forest once they had been taught and cured, according to Salman.
According to him, the department put eight satellite collars as part of an early warning system to track elephant herd movement in order to avoid future encounters with humans.
Perhilitan plans to add four more satellite collars this year, in addition to having three drone units at JES, Mersing, and Kluang, he said.
The drones are dispatched when Perhilitan receives a complaint that an animal is likely to trespass into a residential area, and each herd usually has at least one collared elephant among them.
Upon obtaining drone visuals, Salman said Perhilitan would deploy a crew to the ground to escort the elephants away from the area.
He mentioned that two young female elephants died lately in Kluang after ingesting poison when they wandered into a plantation in quest of food.
He also mentioned that two female elephants were captured at an army base in Mersing last month.
In the last five years, Perhilitan has received roughly 514 complaints regarding elephants, according to Salman.
Following the complaints, he added, the agency had taken active steps to prevent human-elephant conflict.
“By transferring 30 wild elephants to a safer site far away from humans, Perhilitan carried out 1,609 monitoring and control measures between 2016 and 2020.
“The majority of the elephants were transported to Endau-Rompin National Park, where they belong, while others were taken to the Kuala Gandah conservation centre for care and training,” he said.
During the same time period, Perhilitan recorded nine elephant attacks on people in Kota Tinggi, Mersing, and Kluang, resulting in six deaths and three injuries.
“Through our continuing efforts to conserve elephants and the implementation of JES, the department hopes to achieve a 50 percent reduction in human-elephant conflict in Johor within the next five years,” Salman said.
He went on to say that though JES was now closed to the public, it had intentions to open its eco-tourism package before the end of the year.
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