Mystery of Bornean Elephant Death Crisis: Investigating Root Causes and the Link to Dietary (In)organic Contaminants
Sabah, is one of the biodiversity hotspots in the world. However, since 1970s, Sabah has transformed most of its lowland forest into monoculture plantations, settlements, and other socioeconomic developmental activities. Rapid habitat transformations have forced its endemic wildlife including the Bornean elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) and orangutan (Pongo pgymeaus) to use a highly fragmented and estranged landscape such as oil palm plantations for their movements and dispersal, and food ranging activities. The project will focus on investigating the cases of elephant deaths due to suspected poisoning. Since 2020, more than 30 Bornean elephants from various age-groups died because of a suspected chronic poisoning in the Lower Kinabatangan landscape.
The overall aim of this project is to identify the reasons behind this suspected poisoning to ensure the long-term survival of Bornean elephants, living in human dominated landscape. Therefore, our objectives are:
1) To investigate Bornean elephants’ exposure to organic and inorganic contaminants, focusing on heavy metals,
2) To identify the source of potential heavy metal contamination in their natural and non-natural habitats in the highly fragmented Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Sabah Wildlife Department has appointed Dr. Nurzhafarina Othman as the Principal Investigator (PI) to lead a group of six members with various backgrounds (academics, veterinarians, wildlife managers, toxicologists and conservationists) to conduct the overall study. This study is of the outmost importance to identify potential environmental hazards that may take place in man-made landscapes to intend to promote peaceful coexistence between elephants and people, as underline in the current Elephant State Action Plan. In addition, this study will benefit other elephant range countries both in Asia and Africa by providing crucial insights into the impact of environmental contamination on the health and survival of the species. Results of our research will be shared with all stakeholders in Lower Kinabatangan to inform better management practices and reduce the risk to elephants.