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September 28, 2010

Resolving human-wildlife conflict

A group of villagers overcame the problem of rampaging jumbos.

AN unusual poster greeted me as I walked into the local watering hole in Lubok Bongor in Jeli, a village in the far eastern fringes of Kelantan. The caf¡§| is one of those nondescript wooden shacks offering delicious local fares that you often see hugging the sides of shady tree-lined trunk roads in rural Malaysia.

Gajah Masuk Kampung! (Elephants Entering Village!), an A4-sized poster hung on the white wall of the caf¡§| screamed in bold. The public is urged to contact the Wildlife Protection Unit; a contact number is included on the poster together with a photograph of members of the protection unit.

 the villagers of Lubok Bongor in Jeli, Kelantan light bamboo canons
To scare away elephants from their vegetable farms, the villagers of Lubok Bongor in Jeli, Kelantan light bamboo canons. – Pic courtesy of WWF-Malaysia

Lubok Bongor is where one of the country’s first community-based Wildlife Protection Unit has been set up, to help resolve human-wildlife conflict – a critical problem in that village.

Since 2006, more than 3,200ha of the forested area nearby have been cleared for oil palm plantations as part of the state’s anti-poverty programme called Ladang Rakyat or People’s Plantation. But there was no planning for the relocation of wildlife. While smaller fauna perished, bigger games like elephants and tigers were left to roam the forest fringes in search of food.
To scare away elephants from their vegetable farms, the villagers of Lubok Bongor in Jeli, Kelantan light bamboo canons. – Pic courtesy of WWF-Malaysia

Lubok Bongor, which is barely a couple of kilometres away from the Ladang Rakyat scheme, became a target of hungry wild elephants which have been displaced from their usual forest haunts. For months the farming community of 700 families were at the mercy of herds of wild elephants coming and going as they pleased. The elephants would cross the Pergau River into the village, trample on vegetable plots, knock over fruit trees, and eat their way through the village. Terrified, some of the villagers hired poachers to kill the elephants.

In 2008, the Wildlife Protection Unit (WPU), set up by the World Wide Fund for Nature, came into operation. The initial 21 members, made up of farmers and local entrepreneurs, were trained to handle human-wildlife conflict. They did regular night patrols along rivers and jungle paths armed only with flashlights, air horns, loudhailers, and a homemade bamboo canon.

Using these basic tools, the men would create a huge racket to scare the reluctant elephants back across the river. Later, they built electrical fencing around the village. The human-elephant conflict gradually declined and the Lubok Bongor community no longer see the need to kill the elephants.

“We can say that our project was a success. Nowadays we get very few calls to chase away elephants. We heard that the elephants have gone up north,” says farmer Hamdan Musa who was head of the WPU.

But the success also meant that the WWF-sponsored project would be terminated this year. Empowered by their success, the group has decided to continue and expand its work scope and opened its membership to include the entire community. They now call their newly formed group Persatuan Prihatin Konservasi, Kebudayaan, Sosial dan Kebajikan Lubok Bongor (Lubok Bongor Conservation, Cultural, Social and Welfare Society) or PRILUB for short.

“We want to continue our work of protecting wildlife and educating the people about the environment. Now we do gotong-royong with the community, we also have a dikir barat group consisting of young people, and we want to come up with an eco-tourism project to generate income for the community,” says Zaid Omar, the president of PRILUB.

A part of their work includes teaching the community about protection of wildlife. Their dikir barat group, a traditional Kelantanese singing group accompanied by gongs and drums, sing about the need to protect wildlife and the threat of poaching. The group also regularly patrols nearby jungles for tiger snares that were placed by poachers, many of whom are Thais who cross the border illegally. Zaid says the group is in need of sponsors to fund its projects. To support them, contact Zaid (017-901 3182). – By Jules Ong / Wild Asia

 

 

 

  
 
 
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