The home range and movement rate of the Bornean elephants are influenced by the degree of habitat fragmentation, according to a new study by Cardiff researchers and conservationists.
The study, carried out by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), Cardiff University and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) -Malaysia was recently published in the scientific journal Public Library of Science One (PLoS 1). Funding was received from WWF of USA, Netherlands and Germany, and from US Fish and Wildlife Service Asian Elephant Conservation Fund.
"WWF Malaysia and Sabah Wildlife Department initiated in 2005 the first satellite tracking program to investigate the movements of wild Bornean elephants in Sabah", said Raymond Alfred, Head of Research and Conservation at Borneo Conservation Trust (BCT), and leader of the study. "Four adult females from Kalabakan, Taliwas, Ulu Segama-Malua and Gunung Rara Forest Reserves and one from the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary were fitted with satellite collars and the size of their home ranges was determined using the location data gathered from the satellites.
The team found that elephants’ home range size was smaller in non-fragmented forest than in fragmented forest because once habitat was cleared or converted, the availability of food plants and water sources were reduced, forcing the elephants to travel to adjacent forest areas.
"This study clearly shows that our wildlife has to adapt to landscape changes and that elephants are very sensitive to habitat disturbance", said Dr Laurentius Ambu, director of SWD and a co-author on the paper.
"For example, in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve (central Sabah), logging activities were carried out during the tracking period and elephants moved greater distances than in forests that were not being logged."
Co-author Dr Benoit Goossens, Director of DGFC and a Senior Research Associate at Cardiff’s School of Biosciences, added: "Following this study, we would highlight two recommendations to ensure the long-term conservation of the Bornean elephant:
(1) All remaining lowland dipterocarp forests which support elephants should be retained under natural forest management and must not be converted to plantations; and
(2) forest disturbance needs to be minimised wherever wild elephants occur. In timber production forests, this can be achieved by limiting the extent and frequency of logging operations in any given management compartment.
Cardiff In the Kinabatangan, since 2008, SWD, HUTAN and DGFC have collared nine elephants to identify the best approach to reconnect forest fragments in this highly fragmented area but with a high number of elephants. This is carried out with the support of Houston Zoo, Columbus Zoo, Elephant Family, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and US Fish and Wildlife Service."