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Saving Malaysia’s Pygmy Elephants through Pictures

The pygmy elephant, native to Borneo, Malaysia, may finally be getting the attention it deserves with the help of social media. Murdoch University student, Obelia Walker, from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, started a project in August, requesting tour guides and tourists to post pictures of their pygmy sightings on Flickr and other social media platforms with the hashtag #PicMeElephant.

Image courtesy of Murdoch University

She hopes this effort would be able to help the management and conservation of pygmy elephants. Just three months into the project, more than 170 geotagged pictures have been shared by guides and tourists, and they promised that more would be made available.

Walker’s non-invasive way of keeping tabs on the pygmy elephant could possibly be adapted for other animals as well. Image courtesy of Murdoch University

“Bornean pygmy elephants are not only the smallest but also one of the least researched of all elephant species and are endangered with an estimated population of less than 2,000 left in Sabah, so there is a real need to collect data,” said Walker, who is based at the Sukau Rainforest Lodge for the duration of the project.

“Main threats to their survival include habitat loss and human-elephant conflicts, including three isolated instances of poaching in the past 12 months. The best way of conserving the elephants is by mapping and tracking them through their habitat, so that we can understand their ranges and protect them.”

With the geotagged pictures, Walker said it would be able to identify and track the movement of individual elephants, family groups, and herds as they travel through the lower Kinabatangan region of Sabah. This is also a non-invasive and cost effective way to monitor its movements over a period of time.

Image courtesy of Murdoch University

Guides have also pointed out that this approach can be used on other species, including orangutans and crocodiles. Collaborating with Sakau Rainforest Lodge, Borneo Eco Tours, BEST Society, and the University of Malaysia Sabah, Walker hopes more pictures will be shared on social media after she returns to Australia this month.

So if you’ve planned a trip there, be sure to take a lot of pictures and tag them with the #PicMeElephant hashtag!

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