Field Report to the International Elephant Foundation – May 28 2013
Satellite Tracking of Bornean ‘Pygmy’ Elephants
Dr. Shermin de Silva, Director of the Uda Walawe Elephant Research Project (UWERP)
The Kinabatangan River Sanctuary is a narrow reserve that runs along both sides of the
Kinabatangan River in the North Eastern tip of Borneo. It is a very moist seasonal environment. It harbors primates such as orangutans and proboscis monkeys, several bird species such as hornbills, as well as a small population of Bornean elephants. This elephant population numbers less than 150 individuals and is threatened primarily by habitat loss due to oil palm cultivation. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are fewer than 1500 Bornean elephants in the wild. Earlier this year 14 individuals in another population were killed through poisoning, possibly connected to their movement onto oil palm plantations.
Collars are being placed on adult female Bornean elephants to determine their ranging behaviors.
Changing Local Attitudes and Behavior Towards Elephants in Kerala, India
The workshop was held at the Centre for Wildlife Studies of Kerala Veterinary and animal Sciences University, Pookode, Wayanad. About 40 persons attended the training workshop and they represented schools, colleges/universities and the forest department of the human-elephant conflict areas of Thrissur, Palakkad and Wayanad districts. During the training, each participant was provided with a teaching manual, 50 ele-kit packets, and a drama and finger puppet kit in order to conduct their own programs.
Domesticated Elephant Advanced Registration (DEAR)
The Lao PDR is one of the Asian elephant’s range countries afforded the least amount of conservation management, population assessment, veterinary care or governance. An estimated 1,000 – 1,200 elephants remain in Laos. Wild population surveys are rudimentary with population counts recognized as baseline assessments only. More is known of the domesticated elephant population, of which there are an approximate 460 elephants remaining in Laos. ElefantAsia works in collaboration with the Department of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF) to provide the best healthcare, registration and employment options for elephants and elephant owners. ElefantAsia recognized a clear need for enhanced Asian elephant registration in Laos. Paper registration was proving to be duplicative and inefficient, with some elephants having multiple registration papers while other registration papers were lost in provincial offices. This meant a proper elephant census was unattainable and elephants with ongoing health issues were not followed though with appropriate attention. Microchipping the entire domesticated elephant population of Laos was seen as the best management option. Many Asian elephant range countries have already seen the benefit of microchipping domesticated elephants, with five out of 13 nations microchipping captive populations.
Assessing Elephant Population Viability and Mitigating HEC in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains
The Cardamom Mountains of Southwest Cambodia contain nearly five million acres (two million hectares) of forest, and are thus among the few remaining areas in Indochina where the long-term conservation of large, wide-ranging mammals can be realized. Approximately half of Cambodia’s wild elephants inhabit this area and, given sufficient protection, there is still ample room for them to increase. This project will focus on Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area covering 821,788 acres (333,333 hectares) at the western end of the Cardamom Mountains range. The sanctuary contains more than 80 globally threatened species, including an important population of Asian Elephants. Though designated in 1993, this sanctuary has only just begun to be actively managed by rangers on the ground. Elephants have been poached here in recent years and are increasingly at risk from habitat fragmentation and encroachment by the dozens of poor communities who live inside the sanctuary.
This project is strengthening the capacity of Cambodia’s protected area authority to patrol, monitor and protect Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, with special attention to the core areas used by elephants. In accordance with our jointly agreed five-year management plan, Fauna & Flora International has begun to train and mentor locally-recruited rangers and assist the Ministry of Environment to develop wildlife monitoring capacity, specifically in camera trapping.
The sanctuary is home to two known discreet elephant populations, both appear to be restricted in their range for reasons other than habitat fragmentation. Previous camera trap studies in the area have been general and non-species specific. “Trailmaster” trap units were used and images of elephants were largely unuseable for individual identification purposes due to only a small part of the body (a trunk of fore-leg) being photographed. We have now begun using “Reconyx PC-55” camera trap units. They are rugged, very low maintenance, secure and can capture an extremely wide field of view. By placing them at hotspots such as watering holes and saltlicks we have been able to take group shots of family groups and clearly identify different individuals to build up a profile of the age and sex structure of the sub population, as well as identify a range of other wildlife species.
Kouprey Express Program: Assam Elephant Education and Public Outreach, Cambodia
With the assistance of the International Elephant Foundation, Wildlife Alliance’s Kouprey Express mobile environmental education project has built on its continued focus on the conservation of wild elephant populations in the Southern Cardamom Mountains, targeting rural schoolchildren and communities with environmental education campaigns.
The Kouprey Express strategy for 2008-2010 was to improve the understanding of elephant conservation for rural children in Koh Kong, in part through a series of schoolbased field trips to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, where children could gain first-hand experience with rescued Asian elephants. In 2010 the Kouprey Express also implemented a refined and slightly modified version of the previous year’s curriculum and strategic plan, focusing on a more sustainable education program that included: improved educational materials and additional modules, capacity building for project staff and teachers to give the team the skills to train teachers to maximize the effectiveness, build lasting institutional capacity, and sustainability of our environmental education curriculum.
During 2010 the Kouprey Express spent a total of 153 days in Koh Kong Province focusing on 23 target schools and communities. Six curriculum modules were delivered and taught at the 23 schools, reaching 85 classes, 2737 students from grades 4 to 6 and 175 teachers. Other activities were 38 Community Night Shows with an average attendance of 400 community members and 9 field excursions with a total of 500 students, 50 teachers and 50 community members to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. Additionally, 1,308 Grade 1-3 students participated in our art-based environmental curriculum, tree planting and other activity-based environmental educational activities such as theater, dance, and games.
The Role of Conservation Response Unit (CRU) in Human Elephant Conflict Mitigation and Strengthening the Forest Status of Elephant Conservation Center (ECC) Seblat – Bengkulu
Habitat fragmentation is one of the most serious problems affecting elephant populations. Fragmentation is primarily caused by human activities that use natural resources without sustainable management. The areas of habitat typically under most threat are those closely linked with areas of intensive human activity – growing population centers and improving roadways.
The Conservation Response Unit (CRU) model is one method that provides a strong connection between in-situ and ex-situ elephant conservation. This model uses captive elephants and their mahouts for direct field-based conservation interventions to support wild elephants and habitat. The likelihood of humans and elephants coming into conflict increases as human activities encroach into forest areas. Bengkulu Provincial Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) has witnessed an increasing number of incidents of wildlife (elephant and tiger) – human conflict bordering the Seblat ECC conservation area. When elephants threaten lives, property and livelihoods, a response is required to ensure the safety of communities neighboring elephant habitat. If appropriate action is not taken by the responsible authority, local people are likely to respond themselves, perhaps by killing entire herds of elephants. Capturing elephants when they come into contact with communities is not a sustainable solution to this problem.
The Seblat Elephant Conservation Centre (ECC) is surrounded by several plantations – predominately palm oil plantations as well as an ex- logging concessions. The Seblat forest area acts as an important wildlife corridor and the critical link between the forest area of the ECC and the Kerinci Seblat National Park (KSNP). It is the most populated elephant habitat in Bengkulu therefore it must be protected and its status of “Protected Forest” improved to “Conservation Area”. This change of status needs to be issued by the Minister of Forestry. Currently the ECC “Protected Forest” can be easily downgraded to Production Forest or other functions by the local government.
BKSDA Bengkulu started the process to request the status conversion of the land and corridor close to the ECC in 2005. All project partners have submitted a recommendation with data to the Central Government Conservation Agency (PHKA) and it is hoped the minister of forestry will formally decree its Conservation Area status very soon.
In order to mitigate the human-wildlife conflict in the Seblat forest area in the long term, the CRU has also recommended the corridor secured and more forest blocks added which would connect the Seblat elephant habitat with the larger forest complex in KSNP. This new proposed elephant sanctuary size would be about 18,000 ha. It is also necessary to assess existing natural barriers and migration routes in order to be able to identify locations for artificial barriers or to anticipate the next cycle of the wild elephants’ visit. Attaching GPS collars to various elephants could provide a complete picture of the migration routes and habitat used by elephants. This knowledge would be very useful for future human-elephant conflict (HEC) strategies in these areas.