In the hunt for Malaysia’s endangered wild elephants
Trekking deep in Malaysia’s dense rainforest, a group of wildlife rangers went on a risky mission to locate and capture wild elephants in a bid to preserve the endangered species that are fast dwindling due to the loss of their natural habitat.
I recently joined in the mission of official “elephant hunters” — a 10-day ordeal that took us to the forested land in the southern part of Peninsular Malaysia — and ended up with a wild elephant after missing another.
Rapid clearing of forests to pave the way for oil palm estates have taken a toll on the elephant population in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor. Forest clearance ignored the need for elephant corridors to allow for transmigration and this has given rise to a considerable human-elephant conflict. Elephants have no choice but to destroy the farmers’ valuable crops.
The Elephant Management Unit, set up in 1974 by Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, is operating the world renowned Kuala Gandah Elephant Conservation Centre to protect the captured animals. The unit has become highly specialized in elephant translocation, moving elephants to the eastern states where there is still a large amount of forest. More than 600 elephants have been translocated in 37 years. This policy appears to have been successful in maintaining a healthy elephant population and reducing human-elephant conflict.
In this mission, I started with a team from the Wildlife Department, trekking the Lenggor Forest Reserve for six hours and 2 km (1.2 miles) deep into the jungle. We managed to locate an elephant, but failed to capture it. We continued over the next 4 days, but the luck was with another team who found an elephant about 45 minutes away from where we were.
The next day, we joined the other team in the forest near Kota Tinggi. More rangers came in, about 20 of them. The rangers brought in tame and trained elephants, “Timur” and “Cek Mek”, to assist us. We looked for more banana trees to feed the animals.
The 9th day was a big day for us. We were going to transport the captured elephant by road to Kuala Gandah, some 400 km (248 miles) away.
The process wasn’t easy. Firstly, we had to sedate the elephant before bringing in “Timur” and “Cek Mek”. The wild mammal became less aggressive when she saw her two new friends.
The trained elephants then led the wild elephant out of the forest by crossing a stream to a waiting truck.
Putting each of the 3,000 kg (3.3 ton) elephant onto a truck was an arduous task. It took nearly 2 hours to lift the bulls into the truck. We then embarked on the 400-km (248 mile) journey to Kuala Gandah, with the three elephants in tow.
We left the jungle site at 4pm. The excitement continued. Every time we stopped for a short rest, people would come out to pose with the elephants. Children rushed to feed the animals. In the process, I became their official photographer.
Following the 9-hour journey, we arrived at Kuala Gandah at about 1 am.
We waited until day break to unload the elephants.
I then bid farewell and headed home, with a feeling that I had at least helped save one endangered animal. It was an experience that I will never forget.
Bazuki poses with the team (the gun he is holding belongs to the ranger who is taking the photo, which was held for safety reasons during the picture-taking).