Earthworm Foundation has joined a coalition including the plantation industry and academia in promoting human-elephant coexistence in Malaysia.
Signatories of the coalition include University of Nottingham Malaysia and plantation companies Sime Darby, IOI, Aramijaya Agri and Agro, FGV Holdings and Felda. Other actors include Kulim Plantation and the Wildlife Conservation Society, who have not signed an agreement but are working with the coalition.
Though the coalition has been meeting informally since 2020, an agreement was signed in June 2022 formalising the “Achieving Coexistence with Elephants” (ACE) project in Johor state, Peninsular Malaysia. This project is among the first multi-agency human-elephant coexistence projects in Peninsular Malaysia; using a large landscape approach, covering 19 estates and about 9,000 people.
The aim is to promote cooperation between agricultural communities, non-profits and academia to conserve elephants and increase safety in farms and plantations. Wild elephants have home ranges of 200 square kilometres or more. When elephant ranges overlap with human development, like in the state of Johor, active monitoring of elephants is key.
This is why the coalition will monitor human-elephant conflict and wild elephant populations, as well as testing plantation protocols to increase safety and sustainability.
"Johor is a hotspot for elephant-vehicle collisions. This endangers both human and elephant lives, and results in further cost from vehicle damages,” said Salman Saaban, Director of Protected Areas at the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Peninsular Malaysia.
Another key component of the project is habitat fragmentation and roads, which can impact elephant movements. Therefore, the coalition is trying to identify safe movement passages for elephants.
"The ACE Project will enhance on-going efforts to restore ecological linkages in the Central Forest Spine in Peninsular Malaysia,” said Dato’ Haji Salim bin Aman, Director of the Johor State Forestry Department.
By working in a coalition across Segamat, Kluang, Mersing and Kota Tinggi districts in Johor, the project is also researching elephants’ roaming behaviour and habitat needs. Researchers from the University of Nottingham Malaysia study elephant behaviour and movement, including the impact of linear infrastructure on them. Engagement with farmers and villagers is supported by non-profit organisations Earthworm Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Since 2021, Earthworm Foundation has been working in the Southern Central Forest Spine landscape, where it aims to protect forests, wildlife and workers' rights. One of the aims of this landscape programme is improve spatial monitoring and management of wildlife corridors through collaboration.
"With the coalition, we identified areas with high elephant movement, where we can pilot an integrated human-elephant coexistence programme," said Pooi San Wong, project manager at Earthworm Foundation. "We've also met and interviewed farmers and local stakeholders to understand the extent of conflicts and together strategise on the pilot rollout plan."
University of Nottingham Malaysia’s Dr. Wong Ee Phin said Malaysia still had a good number of elephants and that she hoped other plantations will follow suit and support the coexistence efforts. The coalition is continuing to reach out to other plantations in the landscape.
We want to have the support of plantations to manage human-wildlife conflict responsibly, said Dr. Wong Ee Phin from University of Nottingham Malaysia.
This work is part of Earthworm's landscape programme in the Southern Central Forest Spine (SCFS), Malaysia; which is supported by Nestlé and Ferrero. If you would like to know more about the project, check out our landscape project page, the ACE project page or read the press release on the Star newspaper.