Elephant Dung Survey!

Life as an elephant ranger is full of ups and downs and… smells! Our friends at HUTAN, who work in the Kinabatangan in northern Borneo, are undertaking an elephant dung survey this year. Bornean elephants are mostly found in Sabah, at the northern tip of Malaysian Borneo. In the Kinabatangan region lives one of three elephant populations on the island of Borneo. Our friends at HUTAN have worked there for 25 years and we’ve proudly supported their work since 2008.

Knowing the size of the population of elephants in Kinabatangan is an important part of conserving these smallest of elephants. This knowledge helps the team to monitor the impact of various conservation and management strategies in the region. However, determining the size of an elephant population is not an easy task. The conventional way to survey elephants is to carry out line transects (straight lines) across the area they are occupying and count their dung to estimate dung density. 

To get even more detailed, the team needs to test the defecation rate (how much elephants defecate) and the dung decay rate (how quickly it decays). Defecation rate is drawn from direct observation, which means they check the amount of dung in the forest on the paths. The dung decay rate is highly variable and depends on the site and weather conditions, where the dung has been deposited, and what the elephants have eaten. 

To determine a precise average of dung decay rate for the Kinabatangan elephants, the researchers from HUTAN and Seratu Aatai have initiated a ‘dung study’. We’re proud to support Seratu Aatai, who work closely with HUTAN in Malaysia. Since the establishment of this NGO in 2018, Seratu Aatai has conducted programs, training and surveys to gather new information and data about human-elephant conflict in Sabah. The founder of Seratu Aatai, Nurzhafarina Othman, has supervised the planning and implementation of activities for elephant conservation since 2017.

The teams have geo-referenced about 60 fresh dung samples across a variety of habitat types. Every few weeks, the researchers are monitoring the decay stage of the dung. To do so, they are using five different classes of age, from the most recent dung to the oldest dung. Analysing this data will provide an average decay rate for this small but critically important population of Bornean elephants. The data will then be used to conduct an overall elephant population survey at the end of the year. Great work to all these rangers and the teams at HUTAN and Seratu Aatai - we look forward to hearing the results of this survey!

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