Monday, July 14, 2008

Jumbo research takes off

Monday July 14, 2008

SANDAKAN: Three Bornean Elephants have been fitted with satellite collars over the past week in Kinabatangan, marking the beginning of the first study of their social structure.

“Studies on the genetic aspects of the Bornean Elephant have been carried out in the past but we have yet to study their social structure which is virtually unknown,” said Nurzhafarina Othman, conservation biologist at Danau Girang Field Centre who heads this new study.

“The collaring of the elephants is to enhance our access to them. The bulk of the study will be done with the Elephant Conservation Unit (ECU) and we will carry out actual observation and collect DNA information via the faeces of particular individuals,” she added.

The ECU, founded by French NGO Hutan in 2002, to address the issue of human-elephant conflict, will spend hundreds of man-hours tracking these specific elephants for this landmark study.

Sulaiman Ismail who heads the ECU and hails from Kampung Sukau in Kinabatangan said the study on the elephants would include ascertaining their mating system, assessing paternity within elephant groups and identifying alpha males.

This data in turn will assist the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) in managing the Kinabatangan elephant population.

“We are wildlife managers, the more information we have, the more efficiently we can manage the elephants,” said Dr Senthilvel Nathan, chief field veterinarian of SWD.

Dr Senthilvel led the team that comprised the SWD, ECU, Danau Girang and WWF-Malaysia that tranquilised the elephants to immobilise them before fitting the satellite collars.

“Unlike the previous collaring exercise that was carried out by WWF where the elephants were only followed by satellite, this study is different because we picked the individuals we wanted to collar to study their social structure,” Dr Senthilvel said.

The four-year study is being carried out by the Danau Girang Field Centre in collaboration with Hutan.

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