Threats - Habitat Loss

Cut down forest landscape in Sabah, North Borneo, Malaysia. rel=
Cut down forest landscape in Sabah, North Borneo, Malaysia.
© WWF / A. Christy WILLIAMS

Is Your Hand Lotion Bad for Elephants?

Loss of habitat is the biggest threat to Borneo’s pygmy elephants, as it is for so many species around the world.

Over the last several decades, human use of the forests has had a considerable and negative impact on the land. In the past 30 years, many forests in the Malaysian state of Sabah have been cleared to establish tree plantations to supply the world's demand for palm oil.

Largest producer of palm oil
Palm oil is used around the world to make everything from cosmetics, lotions and detergents to cooking oil, chocolate, ice cream and margarine. According to government statistics, is the largest producer of palm oil in the world and exports around $3 billion worth a year.

Conflict with elephants
The conservation problem is that palm trees are as tasty to elephants as palm oil is to humans. Planting an oil palm plantation near elephant habitat, as so many are in Malaysia, is like opening a fast-food place next to a high school full of hungry teenagers.

These situations turn in to what’s known to conservationists as "human-elephant conflict." Plantation workers trying to protect their crops from hungry, crop-raiding elephants sometimes turn to violent tactics and elephants end up dead.

Need for sustainable forest management
The best hope for the long-term survival of Borneo's elephants lies in sustainable forest management for timber production, since elephants can survive and breed in natural forests used for timber production employing selective felling methods (where only trees above a certain size limit are harvested).

To address the problem, WWF is working with plantation managers and owners in key pygmy elephant habitat in an effort to create reforested wildlife corridors that allow elephants and other species to move freely between natural forests.

And we hope the Sabah government will use the data from WWF’s satellite tracking to inform future land-use decisions, reserving the most crucial elephant habitat for elephants and not plantations.

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