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Elephant herd helps M'sian researchers find new sanctuaries

Publication Date : 22-10-2012


A herd of elephants is helping researchers identify areas that need to be set aside as wildlife forest corridors in Malaysian state of Sabah's lower Kinabatangan region.

Since 2008, researchers from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and non-governmental organisation HUTAN, have tracked nine elephants, eight cows and a bull using satellite collars.

Data from the satellite collars on four of the nine elephants is providing crucial information on suitable and available elephant habitats in the region, department director Dr Laurentius Ambu said.

“One of the four elephants has already provided two years of data made up of 24 positions per day which will allow us to prioritise areas where landscape connectivity along the Kinabatangan river has to be rebuilt,” he added.

Of the four elephants providing data, three are female. On October 19, researchers replaced the satellite collar on the fourth, a male elephant named Gading.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goosens said Gading was collared in July 2008 and October 2011, but the device fell from its belt in May 2012.

The researchers also collared one of the three females named Puteri by Nurzhafarina Othman, a Malaysian PhD student at Cardiff University conducting research on the social behaviour of the Bornean elephant.

Nurzhafarina said the satellite collars allowed researchers to track the herd and study how the elephants adapted their social behaviour in the degraded and fragmented landscape of the Kinabatangan floodplain.

“I am also able to understand how social units work, how females are associating within and between family units,” said Nurzhafarina, who had been following the herd of elephants for more than two years.

The collaring exercise was funded by the Asian Elephant Conservation Fund under the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the Elephant Family charity, Houston Zoo and Columbus Zoo.

Four members of the London-based Elephant Family also took part in the collaring exercise.

Wildlife veterinarian Dr Diana Ramirez from the department's Wildlife Rescue Unit, who led the tagging operation, said the exercise was a team effort.

“Tracking, sedating and collaring an elephant is not an easy task. We are concerned about the health of the elephant and the safety of the members of the team,” she said.


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