This post was originally published on December 22, 2020 and updated on July 27, 2021.

Sabah, a state in Malaysia, is well known worldwide for its rich variety of wildlife including the protected Bornean elephants. While you may see squirrels or deer near your home, imagine sharing your neighborhood with animals that are 10 feet tall and weigh 10,000 pounds! 

Protecting these creatures is a big job, involving several different organizations around the globe. That’s why the Malaysian government has a national action plan to coordinate the efforts needed to protect these elephants. The goal is to have elephants and humans co-exist in the landscape. More than 50 percent of Malaysia’s land is protected forests.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund helps protect these majestic animals, in part by operating the Borneo Elephant Wildlife Sanctuary. The Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks, with help from the Wildlife Conservation Society, has developed special elephant corridors that link protected lands. These natural areas allow the elephants to move easily between forests in search of food. 

If an elephant wanders into the wrong area, such as a populated area or plantation, the highly trained Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) moves to help. The WRU receives a substantial part of its funding from the Malaysian Palm Oil Council. 

According to WRU’s most recent annual report, the team successfully rescued 27 elephants in 2019. Most were examined by veterinarians then relocated into Sabah’s forest reserves., including a baby elephant who had been trapped in a mud hole. Others needed more extensive veterinary care before being returned to the wild. Sadly, three had injuries and/or infections too extensive to be saved. 

To provide these elephants with the best care possible, WRU teams with the Oregon Zoo, which is recognized worldwide for its Asian elephant program. The Oregon Zoo provided the WRU with a one-year grant to cover the salaries of two rangers to be fully dedicated to elephant care. Additionally, the Oregon Zoo donated a portable x-ray machine to the WRU and sponsored WRU staff on a visit to the Zoo to learn husbandry training techniques and share knowledge regarding elephant care. 

The WRU also works closely with the World Wildlife Fund and Danau Girang Field Centre to assist in the Elephant Collaring Program. These collars send the elephants’ GPS locations, making it easier for researchers to monitor their movements.

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