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.