Malaysian officials on Monday said an endangered Borneo pygmy elephant was found dead in the state of Sabah last week with about 70 gunshot wounds and tusks hacked off.
Last Thursday, a group of anglers found the adult male elephant’s mutilated carcass floating half-submerged in a river, tied by a rope to a tree on the bank, near Tawau.
The horrifying discovery represents the latest death in the dwindling elephant population as poachers target the mammals for their tusks and as agricultural plantations encroach into their jungle habitat.
According to the international conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF), there are only 1,500 Borneo pygmy elephants left.
Speaking after a post-mortem examination on the animal, Augustine Tuuga, the wildlife department director in Sabah state on Malaysian Borneo, said the brutal attack was “not common.”
Four or five poachers using semi-automatic guns were suspected of having fired at the creature from a close range, The Star newspaper reported, citing an anonymous source from the Sabah Wildlife Department.
Tuuga said the poachers were thought to be locals, while the attack did not look like a professional operation, AFP reported.
Elizabeth John, a spokesperson for wildlife trade watchdog Traffic, said there had been no arrests despite a string of pygmy elephant killings since last year.
“It’s a serious situation,” she told AFP.
“Identifying and bringing those responsible for the killings to justice is key to tackling this threat.
“We hope investigations don’t stop at just this case; there is a high chance this is linked to others.”
Pygmy elephants are fully protected species under Schedule 1 of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997. Anyone found guilty of killing them could be jailed up to five years and slapped with a fine of RM250,000.
The Ministry of Water, Land, and Natural Resources viewed the brutal killing of the elephant as a severe offense.
Since this incident involved the use of firearms, the ministry, in cooperation with the police, would assist the Sabah Wildlife Department in tracking down the poachers.
As of today, the bounty for the elephant’s killers stands at RM30,000. Orangutan Appeal, a United Kingdom-based international conservation group, pledged RM10,000. Meanwhile, the Sabah Wildlife Department and an anonymous citizen contributed RM20,000.
Borneo, shared by Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, is the world’s third-largest island.
A Borneo pygmy elephant (for representational purpose only). Picture credit: World Wildlife Fund (WWF)