It has been known for a long time that elephants occur in the eastern and southern part of Sabah, on the island of Borneo. However, until recently few people knew that there is also a elephant population living in the very north of East Kalimantan. These elephants are confined to the northern part of the district of Nunukan, and historical records indicate that this area is part of their original natural habitat. The indigenous people of the area have always been familiar with these animals that they respectfully refer to as nenek (grandparents).
The elephants of Borneo were always thought to have been introduced to Sabah some 200 years ago. However, recent DNA studies have proven that the elephants of Borneo are in fact an indigenous sub-species, called Elephas maximus borneensis, which split from the other sub-species some 300,000 years ago.
Picture of an elephant from Sebuku area was documented from a survey last year
The elephant herds of Nunukan district moves through a wide area of the upper Sebuku sub-district, from the upper Agison drainage area in the west to the foot slopes of the Mayo hills in the east. They frequently cross the border to move through adjacent areas in Sabah.
The upper Sebuku area is still covered by natural forests, but most forests have been logged or are being logged.
Solitary male elephants occasionally wander much further to the south, all the way to the Tikung River. This is nowadays happening much more often than before, and the number of elephants coming to the south is also larger. It is particularly in this southern area where many new developments are taking place. Large areas have been allocated for oil palm plantations, and many villages have their agricultural fields in this area.
Many conflicts between elephants and human have occurred in the last few years, as elephants enter oil palm plantations, people’s fields and even villages. This has resulted in destruction of crops and infrastructure, which has angered the local people.
WWF in collaboration with the Government of Nunukan, Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) of East Kalimantan have documented the recent visits of disturbing elephants into the area, and it has received much media attention during the last two years.
Joint Efforts with the BKSDA and local government
BKSDA Kaltim and WWF want to avoid more conflicts with the elephants, and have therefore facilitated Pemda Nunukan with the establishment of the Elephant Conflict Forum, during a five days workshop in the village of Sekikilan last September. Surveys of the elephant area and analysis of the field data were carried out by WWF and BKSDA Kaltim to obtain more ecological information of the elephants here, which includes a distribution map of the elephant herds and the solitary males.
WWF will now further collaborate with Pemda Nunukan and BKSDA to ensure that the development of the area can coincide with the conservation of the elephants of Sebuku.
Pemda Nunukan is currently in the process of developing a new spatial land use plan (rencana tata ruang kabupaten) and WWF will advise about the elephant habitats and corridors that need to be incorporated in the spatial planning to avoid elephant-human conflicts. These advices will be supported by more ecological data, obtained through additional research and surveys.
The Elephant Conflict Forum of Sebuku will be strengthened and further organized. WWF will donate through Pemda Nunukan the equipment that is needed to anticipate elephant intrusions in fields and plantations, such as communication radios, flashlights and noise cannons. Pemda Nunukan will allocate additional funds to make the Forum fully operational.
Capacity building of the local stakeholders will be further developed by Pemda Nunukan and BKSDA with assistance from WWF. This includes training and learning visits to the elephant project in neighboring Sabah, which will also strengthen trans-boundary collaboration.
The strong commitment of Pemda Nunukan is very encouraging and can through the partnership with WWF, BKSDA and local stakeholders result in the preservation of the unique elephant population of Nunukan, the only elephants in Indonesian Borneo.