Join Efforts to Protect Kalimantan’s Remaining Pygmy Elephants | WWF Indonesia

Join Efforts to Protect Kalimantan’s Remaining Pygmy Elephants

Posted on 22 March 2019   |  
Romo, Gajah Borneo, Borneo Elephant, Sabah, Kalimantan Utara, Nunukan, Heart of Borneo, HoB
Borneo Elephant in the boundaries of Sabah and North Kalimantan
© WWF-Indonesia/Romo
Kalimantan is the third-largest island in the world after Greenland and Papua. With its vast river systems and dense tropical forests, it is home to the Kalimantan pygmy elephant – the world's smallest elephant species with a maximum height of 2.5 meters. Locally known in Indonesia as Gajah Kerdil, their population is confined to Sabah, Malaysia, and estimated to range between 1,500 to 2,000 and only around 30 to 80 in the North Kalimantan province of the Indonesian part of Kalimantan.

In Indonesia, WWF has been striving to protect this endangered species which maintains the stability of the forest ecosystem, habitat regeneration, and are a high priority in wildlife conservation to the region. One of the challenges to preserving the iconic Gajah Kerdil is the females and male elephants living mostly in isolation. The female elephants are social animals, living in herds with their relatives, while males usually live alone. They only meet when the females are in their mating season. Elephants have a gestation period of almost 21 months and only give birth to one offspring.

Although smaller in size compared to Sumatran Elephants, Kalimantan Pygmy Elephants need a broad home range because they can walk an average of 10 kilometers every day. Sadly, the issue of shrinking forests bring the elephants into more frequent contact with people and as a result, fall victim to poaching or general human-wildlife conflict. There is a dire need to reduce these threats by improving the management of these forests and identify elephant corridors.

Conserving the Gajah Kerdil, Kalimantan Pygmy Elephants

To support the conservation effort of the Kalimantan Elephant, WWF has been working together with Toyota Motor Corporation since 2016 through the "Living Asian Forest Project" which is a series of activities dedicated toward biodiversity conservation in Southeast Asia and to raise the awareness of the public on environmental and biodiversity issues.

In 2017, WWF-Indonesia, in collaboration with the Government of North Kalimantan Province, held a workshop on "Evaluation of Kalimantan Elephant Conservation Strategy & Action Plan for Preparation of Conservation Strategy & Action Plan Documents for the upcoming year 2018-2028”. There were 36 participants from various groups, including government, NGOs, private sector, media, and others.

Agus Suyitno, Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation Officer of WWF-Indonesia said “We still have time to save Kalimantan Elephants’ population and habitat although we are still far from the conservation targets.” Agus further explained the future challenges and activities of Kalimantan elephant conservations including habitat management and population protection, law enforcement, monitoring and survey, protect the transboundary landscape of Indonesia-Malaysia, human-elephant conflict mitigation, multi-stakeholder involvement, economic improvement for communities living in the elephant corridor, government budget support, as well as other funding sources from environmental organization/individual for elephant conservation in Kalimantan.

In early 2018, WWF conducted a population survey for the Kalimantan elephants with partners including the Natural Resources Conservation Center of East Kalimantan, Environmental Agency of Nunukan Regency, Gapeta Nature Lovers of Nunukan, Forest Faculty students from Mulawarman University Samarinda, the Tulin Onsoi Elephant Conflict officers and the local community in Tulin Onsoi District of North Kalimantan. This survey has made significant progress and will continue through 2019 when 100 per cent of the intended survey area will be completed.

Unfortunately, during the survey in 2018, the team was unable to get visual contact with the elephants but found plenty of traces, dirt, friction marks and puddles. However, in a situation where the population is quite small with a vast habitat, any traces would be valuable signs of their whereabouts and condition.

Preserving Kalimantan Forests, home of the iconic Kalimantan Elephants and many wildlife

Shrinking forests bring the elephants into more frequent contact with people, increasing the number of human-elephant conflicts in the region. Since 2003 to 2010, around 16% of the elephant habitat area has been converted into palm oil plantations. There are some forests that were once identified as one of the corridors for the elephants, but it too has been turned into commercial plantations. With the large blocks of forests, they require are fragmented by plantations, conflict between elephant and human is inevitable.

WWF-Indonesia in collaboration with the Environmental Agency of Nunukan Regency, Human-Elephant Conflict Task Force of the Seimanaggaris Subdistrict held “Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation” training for local community who lives in the forest boundary area. Although the conflict intensity is relatively low, mitigation measures have been introduced. On December 14, 2017, the conflict mitigation team reported that three elephants have entered the community's palm oil plantation, the herd was driven away using loud sounds produced with bamboo or PVC pipe cannons.

Romo, Gajah Borneo, Borneo Elephant, Sabah, Kalimantan Utara, Nunukan, Heart of Borneo, HoB
Borneo Elephant in the boundaries of Sabah and North Kalimantan
© WWF-Indonesia/Romo Enlarge


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