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Research Project

Improving Population Size Estimation for Bornean Elephant in Tabin Range & Segaliud-Deramakot-Tangkulap-Tawai Complex

Status: Ongoing

Improving Population Size Estimation for Bornean Elephant in Tabin Range & Segaliud-Deramakot-Tangkulap-Tawai Complex

Bornean elephants are found in three managed elephant ranges (MERs), Kinabatangan, Tabin and Central Forest. Major threats to the continued survival of these species including anthropogenic activities which has caused increasing conversion of natural habitat to human dominated landscapes, bringing elephants and humans into greater contact and conflict. Effective monitoring programs, which involve systematic collection of data on the distribution, size and trend of elephant populations, as well as threats such as illegal killing, are needed to provide a rational basis for the management of elephant populations. This baseline estimate is necessary for a comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of the BEAP 2020-2029.

The major goal covered by this proposal is to provide a baseline elephant population estimate for two elephant populations, Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR) and Segaliud-Deramakot-Tangkulap-Tawai Complex (SDTT). At present there is no reliable information about the size of this important elephant populations.

Previous dung counts-based surveys in Sabah have been handicapped by insufficient reliable data on wild elephant dung decay rates and defecation rates, both of which are vital for accurate calibration of dung pile density estimates. Fecal DNA based methods are not suitable for the Bornean elephant populations due to a lack of sufficient genetic variation within the population. As a result, the number of elephants detected by direct sightings is usually taken as a proxy to indicate the effectiveness and success of different management approaches but this method is notoriously unreliable in tropical forests

The objectives of our project are:
1) to further refine standard dung count-based survey methods and use them to estimate the current elephant population size in TWR and SDTT Complex;
2) to build the capacity of young scientists and conservationists in Sabah in elephant ecology, monitoring, and conservation.

Our main activities will be:
1) monitoring wild Bornean elephants' dung-decay and defecation rates, carrying out dung count-based surveys following CITES MIKE program standards, and using the resulting data on dung decay, dung production, and dung density to produce a reliable estimate of elephant population size;
2) training two Malaysian MSc scientists in elephant ecology, monitoring, and conservation at a local university.

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