Houston Zoo joins partnership to help rare Borneo elephants

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Thursday, January 21, 2016
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Houston Zoo joins partnership to help rare elephants

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- The Houston Zoo has joined a partnership of U.S. zoos working to help protect the endangered Borneo pygmy elephant.

The Houston Zoo, Oregon Zoo, and Seattle-based Woodland Park will focus on researching how human-elephant conflicts arise and mitigating those conflicts through community outreach, policy, technology and in some cases, elephant relocation, according to a statement released today on the effort.

The zoo says the effort is trying to help avoid sometimes deadly conflicts between people and pachyderms in Borneo.

The Houston Zoo adds the work is carried out in Borneo by the Sabah Wildlife Department and conservation organizations HUTAN KOCP and Danau Girang Field Centre.

The entire population of the little-known Asian elephant subspecies has been reduced to around 2,000 in the wild, the zoo says.

The Houston Zoo, Oregon Zoo, and Seattle-based Woodland Park, will researching human-elephant conflicts

Deforestation, largely driven by logging and palm oil production, threatens their survival, according to the Houston zoo release.

The zoo adds, "Agricultural workers sometimes kill or injure elephants that raid their plantations, and the clashes can also separate calves from their herds."

Dr. Marc Ancrenaz -- scientific director for Borneo-based conservation organization Hutan -- quoted in the zoo's release, said, "When you are a local villager and you see your crop completely destroyed overnight, you will not be inspired to save the elephants. Elephants need forests to survive, and people need to convert the forest into other types of land uses, like agriculture, to survive, hence the conflict. If we can't make peace there, extinction is inevitable."

Among other things, the effort seeks to install fences as well as "elephant-proofing" certain areas and teaching people how to repel the elephants.

"Conservation depends on local and international partnerships," said Woodland Park Zoo vice president of field conservation Fred Koontz. "A consortium of organizations brings more resources to bear in support of the monumental effort of protecting elephants and their habitats."

Oregon Zoo conservation and research manager Dr. Nadja Wielebnowski, said via the Houston Zoo's release, "This is the first step in a long-term, multi-zoo commitment to protecting Borneo's wildlife and ecosystems. We hope this model will both strengthen Malaysia's resolve to protect wildlife and inspire more conservation organizations to get involved."