Poisoned By Palm Oil Plantations
Ten endangered Borneo pygmy elephants have been found dead in a Malaysian forest under mysterious circumstances, and wildlife officials said Tuesday that they probably were poisoned. In some cases, the palm oil industry and its workers have been implicated and convicted for killing local wildlife that threaten their plantations. This could be another example of the death and destruction imposed by an industry that is taking wildlife habitat away at the speed of light and leaving no food or cover for several species, including the endangered orangutan, elephant and tigers.
Carcasses of the baby-faced elephants were found near each other over the past three weeks at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, said Laurentius Ambu, director of the wildlife department in Malaysia’s Sabah state on Borneo island. Fortunately, officers rescued a 3-month-old calf that was trying to wake its dead mother.
Poisoning appeared to be the likely cause, but officials have not determined whether it was intentional, said Sabah environmental minister Masidi Manjun. Though some elephants have been killed for their tusks on Sabah in past years, there was no sign that these animals had been poached.
“This is a very sad day for conservation and Sabah. The death of these majestic and severely endangered Bornean elephants is a great loss to the state,” Masidi said in a statement. “If indeed these poor elephants were maliciously poisoned, I would personally make sure that the culprits would be brought to justice and pay for their crime.”
Their population has stabilized in recent years amid conservation efforts to protect their jungle habitats from destroyed for palm plantations and development projects.
The elephants found dead this month are believed to be from the same family group and ranged in age from 4 to 20 years, said Sen Nathan, the wildlife department’s senior veterinarian. Seven were female and three were male, he said.
Autopsies showed they suffered severe hemorrhages and ulcers in their gastrointestinal tracts. None had gunshot injuries. They each suffered slow and agonizing deaths.
“We highly suspect that it might be some form of acute poisoning from something that they had eaten, but we are still waiting for the laboratory results,” Nathan said.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates that less than 1,500 Borneo pygmy elephants exist. They live mainly in Sabah and grow to about eight feet (245 centimeters) tall, a foot or two shorter than mainland Asian elephants. Known for their cute faces, large ears and long tails, pygmy elephants are a distinct subspecies of the Asian elephant. This elephant, inhabiting tropical rainforest in north Borneo (east Sabah, Malaysia and extreme north Kalimantan, Indonesia), was thought to be identical to the Asian Elephant and descended from a captive population. In 2003, DNA comparison revealed them to be probably a new subspecies.A 2010 study found that there are an estimated 2,040 elephants in Sabah.
The term pygmy elephant should not be confused with “dwarf elephant”, which is used for a number of extinct species of elephants that evolved their size due to island dwarfing.