A new project is using GPS-collars, camera traps and dung to tell us more about elephants in Malaysia and how to mitigate human-elephant conflict.

The Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants project is using satellite tracking devices to learn more about elephant behaviour and ecology, and how to mitigate human-elephant conflict. Image: University of Nottingham Malaysia

“We can only manage what we measure.” That’s the key to a unique research project that’s harnessing high-sensitivity GPS satellite collars, VHF receivers and antenna, as well as camera traps to film Malaysian elephants as they move about in the forest.

Called the Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME) project, its aim is to learn more about the behaviour and ecology of Asian elephants living in tropical rainforests and how to mitigate human-elephant conflict. In addition, the MEME team is studying the immediate and mid-term behavioral response of elephants to translocation – when they are moved away from a conflict area.

“Peninsular Malaysia may become one of the last strongholds for Asian elephants in Southeast Asia,” says Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz of the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. “With low human density, a very developed economy, and a functional Department of Wildlife and National Parks, the long-term conservation of elephants in this part of the world depends on social and political will. With our project, we intend to contribute the know-how and provide data to aid the authorities to do evidence-based elephant conservation.”

A hundred years ago, wild elephants on the Malay Peninsula could be counted in their thousands — now, due to the loss of habitat, there might be around 1,500. But this figure is just guesswork; what we know for sure is that elephants have lost a lot of range in Malaysia during the last few decades. The main reasons for this decline have been the loss and fragmentation of natural habitats, and the resulting human-elephant conflict that occurs when elephants enter plantations and villages to feed on attractive crops and grasses. Live capture and poaching for ivory have also impacted Asian elephant populations, although not so much in Malaysia.

There are now about 20 collared elephants roaming the Malaysian tropical rainforest. “Our aim is to fit 50 elephants with satellite tracking devices to monitor how they’re responding to the changes in their habitat, how they react to translocation, and what effect conservation measures such as highway viaducts and wildlife corridors are having on the elephant population,” says Dr Campos-Arceiz.

The MEME project receives its main financial support from the Yayasan Sime Darby foundation as well as the US Fish and Wildlife Asian Elephant Conservation Fund, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, and Marinescape NZ, among others.



For further information contact:

Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz
Associate Professor, School of Geography
University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
Email: ahimsa.camposarceiz@nottingham.edu.my