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article imageOp-Ed: Malaysia sacrifices its rare pygmy elephants for palm oil

By Anne Sewell     Feb 3, 2013 in Environment
Rangers of the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve were shocked to find a baby elephant, trying in vain to wake its mother, who had been poisoned along with 13 other elephants, all part of the same herd.
The herd had been staying at the edge of the rainforest reserve, close to a logging camp and oil palm plantations. Therein lay the problem. Their carcasses were discovered over the past four weeks on land controlled by Yayasan Sabah, the state wood and palm oil group. The family’s territory covers around 400 square kilometers and is being taken away from them.
Plantation workers had been told to keep the elephants away from eating the fruit of the oil palm. To do this, they poisoned the increasingly rare pygmy elephants, of which only 1,500 remain, and almost all of them are in Sabah.
Laurentius Ambu, who is the director of the local conservation authority said,“The elephants ate rat poison. That’s how the plantation workers prevent the animals from eating the fruit of the oil palm,” referring to the horrendous death of the rare forest elephants.
Policymakers in Malaysia are in the process of clearing the last remaining rainforest areas in the states of Sarawak and Sabah for more plantations, as the country continues to rely on the export of tropical timber and palm oil.
However, by destroying these forests, Borneo is losing many important animal and plant species, including orangutans, proboscis monkeys and endangered rhinos. Now it seems the rare pygmy elephants are also in severe danger.
The deforestation is being driven by Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman, who personally grants permits for the clearing of the rainforest and for the establishment of palm oil plantations.
Aman is also Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the state-owned Yayasan Sabah Group, who is late 2012 started cutting down another 70,000 hectares of rainforest for the new plantations. This left little or no room for the forest elephants.
Malaysian anti-corruption authorities have been investigating the bin Aman family since around 2007, and the network of corruption and money laundering extends from Malaysia right through to Hong Kong, Singapore and Switzerland.
There have been allegations of 70 million euros in bribes being laundered through the Swiss bank UBS alone, and reportedly the Swiss federal prosecutor has opened a criminal case against the bank by the Bruno Manser Fund. The Fund is an environmental organization supporting the Penan people and their fight against the destruction of the rainforest.
At present, Malaysia's oil palm plantations cover more than 5 million hectares and the country produces around 20 million tons of palm oil annually, making Malaysia in second place after its neighbor, Indonesia. But at what an awful cost!
It is important to immediately halt this horrendous crime against nature and to work towards protecting the rainforests, rather than putting money into someone's already overflowing bank account. For this reason, Rainforest Rescue is running a petition to call on Aman and the Malaysian government to immediately halt its actions and to protect both the rainforest and its inhabitants.
Interested parties can sign a petition in this matter, or make a general donation towards the valuable work performed by Rainforest Rescue.
The letter that would be sent on your behalf would read as follows:
Dear Prime Minister Najib Razak, Dear Chief Minister Musa Aman,
Malaysia’s forests are among the world’s most biodiverse. I am deeply concerned about the many thousands of hectares of virgin land – including entire forests – that continue to be destroyed annually for palm oil plantations. Elephants, orangutans, and countless other animal and plant species are losing their habitat as a result.
I am also personally outraged by the recent poisoning of at least 14 Borneo pygmy elephants in Sabah. The dead elephants were found over the last four weeks near the edge of the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, in close proximity to a logging camp and palm oil plantations. The director of the conservation authorities of Sabah believes that palm oil workers put out the poison to keep elephants out of the plantations.
Chief Minister Aman, you have called for a thorough investigation and punishment of the perpetrators. Yet as Chief Minister of the State of Sabah, you share responsibility for the death of the forest elephants: As the head of the state government, you issue permits for logging and palm oil production on rainforest land. Furthermore, you are Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Yayasan Sabah Group, on whose forestry and plantation concessions the forest elephants were poisoned, and on which the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve is located. The clearing of the forest started there precisely at the time when the first dead elephants were discovered – in late 2012.
I call on you to protect the nature of Malaysia with its unique wildlife and not to authorize or tolerate further destruction of rainforests, and to restore forest corridors to allow elephants to wander between their remaining habitats.
Thank you very much.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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