Sunday July 16, 2006 -
Sanctuary in the Spotlight (Source from
The Star, Malaysia) www.thestar.com.my
The National Elephant Conservation Centre in
Kuala Gandah, Pahang is in the news again after a mishap
involving an elephant under its care, and the public are
demanding better work practices among staff of the centre,
reports HILARY CHIEW.
THOUSANDS of people visit the National Elephant
Conservation Centre in Kuala Gandah, Pahang annually since it
was opened to the public in 1989.
They ride, bathe and feed the elephants. Many
also dip into their pockets to donate cash or purchase a
souvenir or two in support of the effort to protect the
elephants. And they leave with fond memories of the rare
opportunity to interact with these giant mammals.
Better known to the general public as the
sanctuary rather than its official National Elephant
Conservation Centre, the facility at the edge of the Krau
Wildlife Reserve in Lanchang, central Pahang, was set up as the
base for the elephant translocation unit in 1974 when
human-elephant conflict became rife as the country experienced
Over the years, the translocation programme moved
about 450 displaced elephants from their fragmented habitats to
other remaining contiguous forest blocks especially to the
Kenyir region at the edge of Taman Negara. The renowned
Smithsonian Institute had even at one time sought its
collaboration in satellite-tracking several relocated
Managed by the Department of Wildlife and
National Parks (Perhilitan), the sanctuary houses some work
elephants used in its translocation assignments as well as
provides a home for orphaned elephants.
Lately, it has been making headlines albeit for
the wrong reason.
A male calf, Mardos, was seriously injured while
being transported together with another adult elephant to a
school in Temerloh on July 1. The 17-month-old elephant
fractured both its hind legs near the knee region when it
slipped on the truck flooring that had become slippery after the
animals defecated on it during the journey.
Apparently, animal transfer protocol that
required a minimum of two personnel including the driver, was
not adhered to and the animals were left unsupervised on the
Veterinarians are at their wits' end as the
injuries are deemed too difficult to be treated. Mardos was
taken back to Kuala Gandah in the hope that its injuries would
heal with time.
Coming close on the heels of the death of Mat
Chepor, the latest incident created a public outcry.
(The 18-month-old orphaned Mat Chepor died during
its relocation to the sanctuary. Critics had pointed to the lax
attitude of both the elephant translocation unit and the
department on saving endangered species such as the elephants.)
Again, they questioned the competency of the
handlers and cast doubts on the sanctuary’s role. Vocal animal
welfare activist Shoba Mano even called for the sanctuary to be
“Don’t call yourself a sanctuary,” she charged
inher letter to the newspapers. Others echoed her sentiment in
the various English dailies.
She wrote: “Obviously, something is very wrong at
this sanctuary. If it is incapable of even looking after the
elephants there, then it ought not to be called a ‘sanctuary’ in
the first place.”
While many people enjoyed the elephant rides and
splashing good time at the sanctuary, some were less enchanted
by the circus-like nature of the “bathing time” where the
elephants made repeated trips to “tip” visitors into the river.
It’s as though the animals had to earn their
keep, opined a member of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) in
the Selangor branch online discussion list.
Another flabbergasted observer questioned the
practice of taking the animals out for shows.
“Perhilitan should stop treating the elephants
like exhibition material. The public should go to the elephants
and not the other way round. Isn’t that already provided by all
the bathing and feeding activities in Kuala Gandah?” he queried.
Public criticism was also levelled at the
veterinarians who handled the case, for it was felt that the
ill-fated Mardos was being continuously subjected to poor
After it was rescued from a well in Jemaluang,
Johor, visitors had complained of its “all skin and bones” state
at Kuala Gandah. Although it was subsequently nursed back to
health, it was sent back to the sanctuary, which turned into a
living hell for it following the latest mishap.
Emotionally-charged members of the public reckon
that it would be more humane if Mardos is put down to end its
misery. It is now propped up with a “sling and splint” to assist
it off the beddings that it has been lying on since returning to
Kuala Gandah. Even if Mardos survives this ordeal, it will walk
with a permanent limp.
In fact, there is fear that if Mardos refuses to
feed, it would not pull through and it would be best to put it
However, a news report quoting Perhilitan’s
veterinarian Dr Abraham Mathew suggested that it is recovering
although he qualified himself by saying that “it was too early
to gauge the recovery rate and an evaluation would be made in
Responding to the criticism, veterinarian Dr Heng
Hock Gan writes in his e-mail reply: “Most members of the public
are not aware of the workings of University Veterinary Hospital.
Many factors have to be considered before an animal can be
euthanised. Dealing with an injured elephant is not as
straightforward or easy as with a cat or dog.”
It is learnt that the veterinarians had sought
the assistance of the famed Elephant Hospital in Thailand but
were advised that there isn't much that could be done given the
condition of the injuries.
For the good work that the elephant translocation
unit had achieved in the past, the centre attracted public
donation that was channelled to the Elephant Trust Fund.
Another animal activist, who declined to be
named, wishes that donors would be more discerning in funding
the centre in light of the endless complaints of poor animal
care and questionable awareness activities that are not in line
with animal welfare principles.
“They should demand an investigation and
accountability from Perhilitan in view of the recent mishaps.
Any organisation or campaign that supports Kuala Gandah must
explain to their supporters how such a horrible thing happened
to the very animal that they had given money for upkeep,” she
In its early years, Boh Plantation Sdn Bhd was a
major funding source through its “New Homes for Elephants”
campaign to turn the centre into a sanctuary and conservation
Upon checking, the campaign was mentioned on its
website with no indication that it ended three years ago.
An employee said the listing of the campaign
material was “maintained for record purposes so that the public
(will) know what we’d done before,” adding that the company had
moved on to another campaign focusing on the orang utan.
A more recent donor, the Awareness of
Preservation of Elephants (Apes), which donated RM10,000 for
adopting the orphaned Siput aka Embun for a year, will continue
its support as it is convinced that the centre is doing a good
“The main reason is that many of us (who are)
involved have been to the sanctuary and have seen the passion
that the handlers have for the elephants there. The emotional
link that we saw and felt at our first visit last year convinced
us to set up the organisation,” said Apes co-founder Jau Chan.
Instead of criticising and threatening
withdrawals of donation, a solution needs to be worked out, for
example, a push for more resources and a permanent veterinarian,
Repeated calls and a voice message left on the
centre’s mobile number published in Perhilitan's website were
The centre chief Nasharuddin Othman was reported
as saying that it received a grant of RM700,000 but did not
distinguish the source of funding. Questions on public donation
and the finances of the Elephant Trust Fund which were faxed to
Perhilitan went unanswered.
One may argue that the so-called sanctuary has
fulfilled its role in raising awareness and instilling love for
the elephant but, sadly, the same value appeared to have eluded
its own personnel; the very people entrusted with the duties to
save these ill-fated creatures, especially when funding doesn't
seem to be a problem.