Long-term plan for wild elephants

KOTA TINGGI: Located at the border of the Panti Forest here, the Johor Elephant Sanctuary (JES) is home to three rescued elephants.

They are Nine, a 13-year-old female elephant rescued from Pahang; a five-year-old male juvenile called Panti rescued from Kota Tinggi; and Pes, a seven-year-old male rescued from Perak.

At the 72.99ha sanctuary, their needs are well taken care of by trained handlers from the Johor Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan), who stick to the same daily routine as elephants are known to be consistent mammals.

A typical day starts with them bringing the three elephants out for physical exercise followed by feeding, where each animal consumes up to 150kg and drinks about 70 to 100 litres of water daily.

Due to the current hot weather, Nine, Panti and Pes are also brought to a river within the sanctuary for a bath every day to keep them cool. The elephants can also be seen playing among themselves there while spraying water on their bodies with their trunks.

Johor health and environment committee chairman Ling Tian Soon said the sanctuary began operating in September 2020, not just to provide a safe environment for rescued wild elephants, but also as a food bank for them in the future.

“Many people are under the impression that JES is just a place to keep elephants. We actually have a bigger objective, which is to increase the food supply such as bananas, sugarcane and napier grass in the area.

“At present, Perhilitan has identified about 120 to 160 wild elephants in Johor and we hope that in time, the sufficient food supply will encourage them to remain in the area instead of wandering into residences and facing human-wildlife conflicts,” he said when interviewed at the sanctuary.

The wild elephants are mostly found in the eastern parts of Johor such as Kota Tinggi, Mersing and parts of Kahang in Kluang, he added.

A sanctuary: Elephants at JES in Kota Tinggi are taken care of by trained handlers from Johor Perhilitan. — THOMAS YONG/The StarA sanctuary: Elephants at JES in Kota Tinggi are taken care of by trained handlers from Johor Perhilitan. — THOMAS YONG/The Star

Ling said the food bank is a long-term initiative to reduce the number of human-elephant conflicts, as Perhilitan receives about 100 such complaints each year. He said elephants tend to move along their natural migration route even if development takes place, which leads to the animals crossing paths with humans.

Ling said part of the state’s plans was to direct wild elephants into the Panti Forest corridor so they can detect the abundant food supply in the area.

The efforts include installing electric fencing at the border of the surrounding villages with funding of RM8mil soon, he said.

Ling also urged private companies and non-governmental organisations to work with Perhilitan to contribute crops to increase the food supply for elephants through their corporate social responsibility efforts.

The sanctuary is currently equipped with facilities such as an administration building, elephant paddocks, bridges, an entrance archway and staff quarters.

The state executive councillor added that the JES project is currently entering its second phase to add more public facilities, with construction expected to begin this year.

He said the state’s plan is to eventually open up the sanctuary to the public by 2026 to educate them on the importance of wildlife protection and conservation.