A new team has just taken to the water to protect Bornean elephants and other important wildlife of the Malaysian province of Sabah. In partnership with Elephant Family, the Danau Girang Field Centre, Hutan and the Sabah Wildlife Department have launched a river keeper unit to patrol the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. Responding to new threats, particularly from the increase in unregulated wildlife tourism, the river keepers will become a key component of efforts to protect this biodiversity hotspot.
Rising to the challenge, the new river keepers are Mohd Syafendy Yajit and Sudirman Sawang, members of the local community who already have extensive experience working with Hutan. They are currently attending a training workshop on enforcement and prosecution of illegal wildlife hunting to prepare them for their new role, which will see them patrol the 260km stretch of river both day and night, checking for and preventing illegal encroachment, logging and hunting.
They will also monitor the tourist boats that run up and down the river offering spectacular views of numerous animals, like those pictured above. As Marc Ancrenaz, director of Hutan explains, “Although tourism can boost economic development, ill-managed activities can also be a nuisance to elephants and their habitat. The river keepers will stop boats from going too close to the elephants or tourists disembarking on land”.
Furthermore, Dr Benoit Goossens, director of the Danau Girang Field Centre, adds that “one of the major roles of the River Keeper Unit will be to investigate elephant responses to tourism activities along the Kinabatangan and to come up with wildlife watching guidelines that will be provided to the different tour operators”. These will include a minimal distance that is to be respected between tourist boats and elephant herds. Such guidelines will therefore ensure that tourists can continue to enjoy one of the world’s great wildlife experiences, safe in the knowledge that doing so will not harm what they hope to see.
written by Dan Bucknell on 16 May 13
A long-term future for Asian elephants requires long-term action. This applies to all of Elephant Family’s efforts, at the heart of which is the protection of elephant habitat, especially corridors. Last year we celebrated success in securing the Tirunelli-Kudrakote Corridor in Kerala, and happily reported that elephants were using it regularly. But the work hasn’t stopped there: the regeneration of the corridor’s plantlife and its use by wildlife is still being monitored, while the communities that moved out of the corridor are still being supported.
Conservation is as much about people as it is wildlife, and central to the success of the Kerala Corridor has been the wellbeing and support of the communities that once lived in the elephants’ path. With our partner organisation the Wildlife Trust of India, we have helped the communities resettle away from the corridor, and provided good quality housing, agricultural land and other civic amenities to improve their lives. Such support has continued, and earlier this month the villagers from the last settlement to be relocated were connected to electricity, which they never had within the corridor. The celebrations incorporated the screening of a film on elephants and the need for their conservation!
Now that the elephant corridor is free of people it’s essential that it remains that way; that people do not move back in or exploit it in any other way, and that the vegetation is allowed to recover in the cleared settlements. The team is still overseeing this process and their research has confirmed that the corridor’s plantlife is returning naturally to the former villages. The only area where extra intervention was required was the first village, where weeds and some cattle grazing had hampered the regeneration.
Wildlife has also been returning with the vegetation. Thirteen species of large mammal have now been recorded within the corridor: sambar deer, spotted deer, Indian mouse deer, Indian gaur, Indian porcupine, black-footed grey langur, black-naped hare, Malabar giant squirrel, small Indian civet, wild dog, jungle cat, tiger, and of course Asian elephant.
A tiger was spotted by the team last year while conducting plant surveys in the former fourth settlement, and one was photographed there in a camera-trap last month. A camera trap in the third settlement meanwhile captured a different tiger in January (pictured). All of the tigers appear to be in good health, and are therefore a very positive sign that the project has succeeded.
…. For long-term success
One or two jobs remain to ensure that this success cannot be reversed. To get a better level of protection for the corridor, the ownership of land purchased in the cleared settlements is being transferred to the Kerala Forest Department for them to manage as part of the wider protected areas that the corridor connects.
Where land purchase has not been possible in certain areas, and where human activity could potentially extend back into the corridor and threaten it all over again, the team has worked with the Forest Department to declare the area as “Ecologically Fragile Land” to prevent that. One of the areas near the first village to be relocated was declared as such last month. Yet another vital step for the long-term protection of this corridor and India’s elephants.
To watch a short video on the corridor, click here
written by Dan Bucknell on 16 April 13
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