Woman hurt in elephant encounter

KOTA KINABALU: A 57-year-old woman was slightly injured when she and a husband encountered an adult bull elephant on Thursday in the east coast Telupid district in the latest human-elephant conflict.

Sabah Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said the 2.3m-tall elephant injured Justina Ompang as she was walking to work with her husband in Kampung Gambaron, about 2km from Telupid town, around 6.20am.

Justina and her husband Khunyan Basimah, 40, were walking out of their home when they came across a bull elephant standing by the side of the road.

Elephants often retreat into the nearby jungle upon seeing people but in this instance, the elephant charged and hit Justina with its trunk.

Khunyan started shouting to distract the elephant and it worked, as it immediately stopped attacking the wife and ran into the forested area.

Villagers then rushed Justina to the Telupid hospital where she was treated for bruises on her upper body.

Dr Sen said more than 30 elephants in four different groups have been causing severe damage to the villagers' crops as well as damaging vehicles in several villages.

He said the department's rangers and the Wildlife Rescue Unit personnel have been working round the clock conducting Elephant Control Operations, to chase the jumbos back into the forest.

"Now with this new development, we have boosted our operation to a full blown Capture and Translocation Programme. It is going to be a very expensive operation, costing as much as RM20,000 to RM30,000 per elephant but for the safety of the villagers we have to do it," he said.

Department director William Baya said human-elephant conflicts had been on the increase in recent years at elephant habitat areas in the central and south eastern parts of Sabah.

"We believe the reason for this is the increase in fragmentation and loss of suitable elephant habitat, coupled with an increase in elephant population statewide," he said, adding that a 2008 survey showed that Sabah's elephant population stood at 2,000 heads.