Projects in Malaysia


Malaysia hosts two very distinct populations of Asian elephants: the 1,200 - 1,700 elephants that remain on Peninsular Malaysia are those that are found throughout mainlaind South and Southeast Asia, also known as Indian elephants (Elephas maximus indicus); the 2,000 or so elephants of the Bornean state of Sabah are distinct, and while their origins are still debated, they are widely considered a separate subspecies (Elephas maximus borneensis). The leading theory at present is that they are a feral population of formerly captive Javan elephants, now extinct in the wild that were given as a gift from one sultan to another in the 14th century. 

The breakup of habitat and the conflict with people that ensues are the two most prominent threats in both regions. Sabah has lost 40% of its forest cover within the past 40 years, and the ongoing conversion of forests, particularly for the cultivation of palm oil, is a serious concern for the future survival for the four main elephant populations in Sabah. Elephants do feed in oil palm plantations, and in doing so they can cause considerable damage, for which they are occasionally killed in retaliation. Their long-term future will require better land use planning, to include forest corridors between larger areas of habitat, and effective measures to prevent conflict between elephants and people, especially in oil palm plantations.

The issues and solutions are very similar on Peninsular Malaysia. Until 1974 conflict with elephants used to be overcome by culling them. This practice was then banned and the government instead began translocating elephants from conflict situations, capturing them and releasing them in forest elsewhere. Between 1974 and 2010 more than 600 elephants were translocated in this way. However, translocation is both costly, and has been shown to be largely unsuccessful as elephants attempt to return to where they came from. As in Sabah, habitat connectivity and effective conflict prevention will be key to future conservation success.