Sanctuary for Bornean elephants on the way

Jumbo family: A herd of Bornean elephants striding along a trail in Sabah.

KOTA KINABALU - A safe haven for the threatened Bornean elephants is taking shape in the wildlife-rich Lower Kinabatangan region at Sabah's east coast - thanks to seven Japanese groups and companies.

The first phase of the Bornean Elephant Sanctuary (BES) project had seen the construction of an elephant handling paddock, staff quarters and a storage building at a cost of RM1.8million (S$714,000).

Local non-governmental organisation Borneo Conservation Trust's head of conservation and research Raymond Alfred said that the first phase of the sanctuary was built with funding from Asahiyama Zoo, Suraya, Hunting World, Tokio Marine, NTT Data Kirin, Taiseh and Yusen Logistics.

"The endeavour is what the Japanese describes as an ongaeshi project, which means giving back to nature," explained Raymond.

Work on the second phase of the BES on a 25ha land, and costing about RM30mil, has already begun. It is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council has allocated RM5.2mil for this phase of the project.

"The council is also providing financial support in the preparation of the BES master plan at Lot 8 of the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary," said Raymond.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu said that the BES would be able to accommodate between 12 and 16 elephants at any given time.

He said that the role of the BES would be to nurse injured elephants back to health before they were released back to the connecting forest and wildlife reserves.

"Rescued elephants will also be transported to the BES before they are released back to the wild," he said.

Aside from elephants, BES will also serve as a transit centre to treat injured sun bears, proboscis monkeys, orang utan, clouded leopards and bantengs.