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FLORA AND FAUNA
Malaysia considers reward in dead Borneo elephant case
by Staff Writers
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia (AFP) Feb 6, 2013


Gabon says half its elephants killed since 2004
Libreville (AFP) Feb 06, 2013 - More than half of Gabon's elephant population has been killed by poachers since 2004 despite ramped up security measures to try to stop the slaughter, wildlife officials said Wednesday.

"More than 11,000 elephants have been killed since 2004," Fiona Maisels of the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement.

Gabon, on the west coast of central Africa, is estimated to host over half of the continent's 40,000 forest elephants but the animals have long been targeted by poachers for their ivory.

Maisels said illegal hunting had slashed Africa's forest elephant population by two thirds since 2004.

"Despite our efforts, we continue to lose elephants every day. If we don't reverse the situation rapidly, the future for African elephants is compromised," the head of Gabon's national parks agency Lee White said in the same statement.

White said the parks had boosted staff numbers and deployed both soldiers and security guards in their bid to stop the "illegal slaughter."

The illegal ivory trade is mostly fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns are used to make ornaments and in traditional medicine.

"As the black market price for ivory rises every year... the country is becoming the target for the worst species of poachers in central Africa," the office of President Ali Bongo Ondimba said.

With rare exceptions, trade in elephant ivory has been outlawed since 1989 after elephant populations in Africa dwindled from millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

Africa is now home to an estimated 472,000 elephants.

One kilogramme (about two pounds) of ivory is currently estimated to be worth around 1,500 euros on the Asian black market, the presidency said.

Malaysian authorities will offer a $16,000 reward for information on 14 rare Borneo pygmy elephants found dead last month if it is confirmed they were poisoned, officials said Wednesday.

Masidi Manjun, tourism, culture and environment minister for the state of Sabah on vast Borneo island, told AFP that authorities hoped the reward would help them get new leads.

"There is a reward of 50,000 ringgit for information leading to the arrest, prosecution and conviction of the alleged culprits if the chemist report confirms that death was due to intentional poisoning," he said.

He added in a text message that the report is due to be completed on Friday, about a fortnight after a group of eight elephants were found dead near an oil palm plantation.

Further bodies were later found decomposing in the Gunung Rara forest reserve, and officials are trying to save a three-month-old calf, poignantly photographed nuzzling its dead mother and now staying in a wildlife park.

Officials believe the pachyderms -- an endangered species -- may have been poisoned, possibly by substances left out by workers at nearby plantations to deter them from eating the palm fruit.

Poisoning is suspected due to severe ulceration and bleeding in the animals' digestive tracts.

Masidi has vowed to push for severe punishment including a stiff jail sentence for anyone found to have maliciously poisoned the animals.

WWF-Malaysia in a statement blamed the deaths on rampant felling of forests by planters, which had forced elephants to find alternative food and space and put them in conflict with humans.

The group says only about 1,200 Borneo pygmy elephants, which are smaller and have more rounded features than full-sized Asian elephants, are estimated to be left in the wild.

The state of Sabah once teemed with wildlife including elephants, orangutan, clouded leopards and a vast array of monkeys and birds.

Pockets of thriving wildlife populations still survive but have been squeezed into ever smaller areas by the expansion of logging and agriculture, particularly the cultivation of oil palms, which produce a profitable edible oil.

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