KOTA KINABALU: A Borneo pygmy elephant took villagers and onlookers by surprise when it strayed into a bungalow in Sabah’s central Telupid district.
The elephant that came from the Tawai forest reserve, which just borders the bungalow in Kampung Gambaron II, was apparently spooked by noises and the crowd who were screaming due to its sudden appearance around midnight on Monday (Sept 12).
It was learned that the noises came from a chainsaw being turned on while a majority of the crowd, travelling in four stage buses, had stopped over for supper at a restaurant adjacent to the bungalow.
Sandakan Wildlife Department officer Hussein Muin said the adult elephant eventually found its way back to the forest reserve.
“It did not spend that long in the house before returning to the jungle,” he said when contacted.
Hussein said the animal was wandering in an alley in the village before encountering humans and the loud blaring from the chainsaw.
“It was not aggressive and was only trying to find its way back into the forest.
“It was more disoriented by the commotion around it, caused by the people who probably had never seen an elephant before. Hence, it panicked and ended up in the house.
“The elephant was actually a frequent visitor to the village as the settlement used to be part of their traditional trail in the jungle,” said Hussein, adding the animal usually wandered into the village to look for food due to depleted resources in the jungle.
The incident was caught on a 1.10-minute video where a group of people could be seen standing in front of the house, which was located on a hill, with the elephant visibly walking back and forth on the compound.
A woman could also be heard shouting “gajah” (elephant) repeatedly in the background.
The video had been widely shared in local WhatsApp groups in the district, with some expressing spiteful comments towards the animal over the destruction caused, besides blaming the authorities for allowing the matter to happen.
Hussein urged the community for their patience, saying the Wildlife Department viewed the matter seriously. He said the department had also spoken to the house owner over the incident.
He appealed for the people’s understanding over the animals, pointing out that those who knew of elephants would be aware that the animals were not harmful creatures if they were not disturbed.
“Like I said, the village used to be their corridor to move so they think it’s part of their habitat but they do not intentionally mean to bring harm to people.
“We have a team from the department as well as the community elephant ranger team (CERT) which consists of NGOs and villagers as members monitoring the situation in the village.
“The CERT would attest this particular elephant was not in any way aggressive or showed aggressive behaviour,” he said.
Hussein said the department’s translocation team was currently doing work in the neighbouring Kinabatangan district and would be heading to Telupid to look for the elephant and transfer it to another area in the forest.
He denied the department was not doing anything to resolve the matter or to reduce the human-elephant conflict although pointed out that it could not fulfil all their demands.
Among them, he said, were demands for monetary compensation over destroyed private property by villagers as this was not provided for under the law.
“But this does not mean we are not doing anything. Besides being sensitive to the situation in Telupid and setting up the elephant community monitoring teams, we are also trying our best to put up electric fencing in the village.
“We are trying to source for the funds to do so. This is among our top priorities besides constant monitoring,” he said, adding its sister villages Kampung Gambaron I and Kampung Bouto already have their electric fences to keep out the elephants.
Hussein said the department was also working with other government agencies in a special committee to oversee the elephant situation such as the District Office, Agriculture Department, the local assemblyman and the Malaysian Palm Oil Board.
Telupid is no stranger to elephant-human encounters as previously in March 2018, an elephant wandered into the dining hall of a secondary school in the district. No one was in the hall at the time.
There have been, however, instances of rogue elephants terrorising and destroying oil palm plantations in Telupid which the Sabah Wildlife Department had dealt with.