Elephant Satellite Tracking and Land-use Planning

Why is this project so important?

The island of Borneo is shared by the countries of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei and is the largest island in Asia. The Borneo rainforest is over 140 million years old - making it one of the oldest rainforests in the world. However, deforestation rates across the whole island have increased dramatically over the past few decades which has exacerbated the dangers posed to wildlife across the island.

Malaysia’s deforestation rate is accelerating faster than that of any other tropical country in the world. Current satellite imagery shows that 80% of Malaysian Borneo’s tropical forest has been destroyed or degraded by logging activities.

Wild elephants can only be found in the northeast of Malaysian Borneo but are rapidly losing their natural forest habitat to oil palm industry, road development and pressure from human settlements. Elephant pathways are being replaced by plantations and elephant populations are becoming isolated and agitated as human-elephant conflict escalates. Promoting coexistence between people and elephants to achieve a balance between economic development and biodiversity protection will require a whole-landscape approach to land-use planning through pro-active and innovative measures.

The rate of rainforest destruction and conversion to oil palm plantations presents an urgent threat to Borneo’s wildlife that requires urgent action.

Project Partner: Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC)

Duration: 2010 - 2017

Project goal: To protect and optimise the connectivity of Asian elephant habitat in Sabah, Borneo, based on a scientific understanding of elephant habitat requirements.

Borneo (Sabah) elephant population: 1,724

What we do

In Borneo we are powering the use of radio collars and camera traps to track elephants across three key regions. This vital data is being used to trace elephant movements across otherwise impenetrable forest ranges. Most critically, it has provided conclusive evidence to governments and companies that wild elephants desperately need their habitat. It has invigorated arguments to stop development and protect forests in the face of endless requests to turn this pristine habitat into plantations for palm oil production.

Over the past eight years, Elephant Family has collaborated with the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) to satellite-track more than 30 elephants and translocate problematic animals found in oil palm plantations into more elephant-friendly areas. Our work helps to reduce human-elephant conflict and will inform a greater land-use management plan in collaboration with local stakeholders, students and organisations.

The elephant movement data collected via the satellite collars since 2010 contributed to the scrapping of the Sukau bridge construction project in Sabah, Borneo by showing the importance of the habitat to elephants. The construction of the bridge had the potential to majorly disrupt elephant and wildlife populations in the area and as a result of our data and other international pressure, the Sabah Forestry Department abandon their plans in April 2017.

Without Elephant Family’s support, the elephants of Borneo would be voiceless, stressed and lost. This is a signature project that shows science and long-term studies provide powerful data to preserve elephant movement and keep them from encountering people and causing conflicts.