World Elephant Day is celebrated every year on August 12 to instil awareness and bring attention to the urgent plight of Asian and African elephants across the globe. In Malaysia, these gentle giants continue to leave their unique mark on the country’s history, culture and ecology. While revered by many, their populations are dwindling the country mainly due to habitat loss and fragmentation from development and agricultural activities.
To mark the World Elephant Day in August, Earthworm Foundation (EF) -- through its smallholder programme Rurality -- together with the Sabah Wildlife Department and Seratu Aatai, organised an event in Ulu Muanad, Beluran, Sabah on August 20, 2019. The event, which was also supported by nearby plantations, aimed to strengthen collaboration among stakeholders in Ulu Muanad, and to spread awareness about elephant conservation issues to stakeholders and the public.
Sabah is home to the world’s smallest, endemic elephant species: the endangered Borneo Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis). But in the state’s oil palm landscape, increasing human-elephant conflicts occur when farmers come into contact with these animals, who often cause damage to crops when they eat young palm oil tree stems. Since 2016, Earthworm's Rurality programme has been working to find both short- and long-term solutions for smallholders to co-exist with elephants – a complex problem that requires a multi-stakeholder and multi-pronged approach for the conservation of these animals.
About 130 participants including school children joined the fun-filled celebration which featured a range of activities. These include exhibitions, games related to elephant behaviour, a drawing competition for children, designing elephant structures; a community film screening by Borneo Eco Film Festival participants on elephant issues; and a dialog session to discuss the challenges faced by smallholders in the palm oil industry and the solutions available. It was a successful event and reflects the growing collaboration between all stakeholders in mitigating critical challenges in a sourcing zone.
EF’s Rurality team would like to thank all event sponsors, especially IJM Plantations Berhad for hosting the event at the IJM Desa Talisai Sport Complex. Also a big thank you to those who contributed in in-kind support, as well as the 7 Team-HEC Volunteers of Ulu Muanad and NGOs that supported in making this event a success.