KOTA KINABALU (AFP, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Six Borneo pygmy elephants have been found dead in Malaysian palm oil plantations in recent weeks, officials said Monday (May 21), the latest of the endangered creatures to perish as their rainforest habitat is devastated.
The carcasses of the elephants, aged between one and 37, were discovered at different locations in Sabah state on Borneo island, local wildlife department director Augustine Tuuga told AFP.
"We are currently conducting tests on their internal organs," he said, adding the carcasses did not have any signs of gunshot wounds.
Tuuga said the elephants could have accidently consumed fertiliser in the palm oil plantations, which could have poisoned them.
There are about 2,000 pygmy elephants, the smallest type of elephant in Asia, in the wild. Late last year three were killed by poachers.
In 2013, 14 pygmy elephants were found dead in Sabah and were thought to have been poisoned.
The pygmy elephants are baby-faced with oversized ears, plump bellies and tails so long they sometimes drag on the ground as they walk.
They are threatened by widespread logging of their natural habitat to make way for lucrative palm oil plantations, and are targeted by poachers as their ivory fetches a high price on the black market.
Sabah's Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, said later on Monday he has directed the authorities to get to the bottom of the deaths and to fast-track necessary preventive and protective measures.
He also instructed the Sabah Wildlife Department to conduct a thorough probe on these deaths and to work closely with the Sabah Forestry Department to protect local wildlife and forests.
Shafie said the two bodies should also work with non-governmental organisations to set up forest corridors without fear of business interests.
He said despite claims of solutions from the previous government, such deaths are still occurring and there had been little will to push through more drastic actions to protect wildlife.
"If real measures had been taken to check on human-elephant conflict as well as other issues including poaching, the deaths of these endangered gentle giants of Sabah, with one as young as a year-old, would not have occurred.
"Perhaps, the previous government did not have the political will to push through more drastic actions that would affect big logging companies and plantations?" the Parti Warisan Sabah president said in a statement on Monday (May 21).
Shafie said he did not care for lip service and wants short and long-term conservation plans drawn up and implemented fast.
"The Warisan government will facilitate such efforts and not bow down to pressure from any groups," he added.