Experts trying to find answers to mysterious elephant deaths

KOTA KINABALU - The mystery surrounding the deaths of 14 Bornean pygmy elephants at a forest reserve in January continues to unravel with wildlife experts leaving no stone unturned in investigations.

Researchers are examining two surviving elephants to get to the bottom of the 14 fatalities.

The surviving herd, an adult female and juvenile female elephant, were found at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve where the 14 carcasses were found over several days in late January.

State Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) veterinarian Dr Diana Ramirez said blood samples were collected from the two elephants on Feb 25 as directed by the Wildlife Enforcement Task Force.

The adult female, named Dara by WRU rangers, was fitted with a satellite collar by the Danau Girang Field Centre, she added.

Centre director Dr Benoit Goosens said the move would help researchers track the movement of the herd within the changing landscape of the Gunung Rara-Kalabakan region.

"This can help us understand what could have happened to the 14 elephants that died,'' he added.

He said the centre, a collaboration between the Sabah Wildlife Department and Cardiff University, was working with WWF-Malaysia to fit the collars on 20 to 30 elephants from several herds in central Sabah.

"We will monitor their movement and ranging patterns to identify the best areas for conservation and propose the establishment of elephant corridors," Goosens said.

As for Dara, he said the satellite tracking showed that the pachyderm continued to move about within the Gunung Rara area.

Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said state authorities were determined to resolve the deaths of the elephants.

Dara's collaring was funded by grants from the Asian Elephant Foundation, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

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