fitted with GPS and
A hundred years ago wild elephants on the Malay Peninsula could be counted in their thousands - now there are less than 1,500.
Using the latest GPS and satellite communications technology, the Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME) research project aims to track the movements of 50 wild elephants in collaboration with the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
Stripped of their natural habitat to make way for crops, roads and new building developments and facing wide-spread persecution for the so called human-elephant conflict, Asian elephants are endangered due to the rapid decline and fragmentation of their populations. In the last 50 years alone, 50% of tropical rainforest in the Peninsular Malaysia has been lost.
Dr Ahimsa Campos Arceiz, MEME project lead, says: "If we lose the elephants, we lose a unique element of tropical ecosystems. When elephants walk they trample the soil and impact the forest in a way that no other animal does. When elephants eat, they modify the structure of vegetation, releasing plant parts that can be consumed by other herbivores. When elephants eat fruits, they disperse seeds. Ultimately, elephants create habitat heterogeneity and promote forest regeneration. All this will be lost and we will have a much more simplified ecosystem that is less resillient and has lost a lot of its diversity".
MEME hope that 3% of the Malaysian elephant population will be fitted with GPS collars. They will produce information on how elephants move in natural habitats as well as in human-dominated landscapes, and how they respond to translocation. The project also looks at non-invasive techniques to extract DNA and hormones from elephant faeces, developing cost-effective strategies to mitigate human-elephant conflict, and improving our understanding of elephant ecological function in tropical rainforests.
The project has received a donation of RM3.36 from Sime Darby which will fund hi-tech equipment and three PhD students.