Foreign expertise sought over elephant deaths

KOTA KINABALU - The Sabah government is seeking foreign help to determine how 14 pygmy elephants in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve died.

This is because the results of the much-awaited chemist report on the cause of the deaths have returned inconclusive.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said there was no conclusive analysis on the source of the deaths, widely suspected to be due to poisoning, and the samples would be sent overseas for a second expert opinion.

He said preliminary results of the chemical analysis by the Chemistry and Forensics Department on samples provided did not provide conclusive evidence.

"The Sabah Wildlife Department has requested the Chemistry and Forensics Department to expand the scope of their tests on more possible contaminants," he added.

To ensure greater transparency, Masidi said his ministry would seek a second opinion from two internationally-accredited forensic testing facilities in Thailand and Australia.

"This is to improve our capacity to find any chemical compounds that may have been the cause of the elephants' deaths," he said.

The samples would be sent to the Ramathibodi Poison Centre at Mahidol University of Thailand and the Chemistry laboratory of the Queensland government's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in Australia.

"We are hoping for a comprehensive test and analysis from the two facilities as both are renowned institutions in this field," he added.

He said he had been in touch with Sabah police commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib, who informed him that the focus of investigations covered all companies working the Yayasan Sabah's Forest Management Unit 23 (FMU23) area where the elephants were found dead since Dec 29.

"He has informed me that the police are in the midst of a very thorough investigation involving all possible parties, including plantations and logging companies within the vicinity where the dead elephants were found.

"I have full confidence in the ability of the police to do their job well," he added.

"I hope people will refrain from jumping to conclusions at this point of time and wait until the case is fully investigated to avoid innocent parties being unfairly implicated."

A RM100,000 reward has been offered by the state government, Malaysian Wildlife Conservation Fund and Malaysian Travel and Tour Agents Association.

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