Between 1974 and 2011, it is estimated that over 600 elephants have been translocated to Taman Negara National Park and other protected areas, however, not much is known about the fate of these elephants.
In 2011, Management & Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME), a joint project between the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (PERHILITAN) Peninsular Malaysia and the University of Nottingham Malaysia was initiated. The research project aims to assess the effectiveness of current management strategies in Malaysia, develop a science-based conservation plan for Malaysian elephants, build capacity within PERHILITAN and the circle of young Malaysian conservation researchers, carry out advocacy and public awareness.
MEME studies the behaviour and ecology of elephants and their interactions with people, and one of their focus is the impact of translocation on wild elephants. The use of technology such as GPS satellite collars, opens up a window of opportunity for researchers to track elephants in the rainforest and collect faecal samples that can be used to investigate the physiological impact of translocation on wild elephants.
Dr. Wong Ee Phin, a co-investigator of MEME, is currently using non-invasive methods to study the stress response and movement behaviour of translocated elephants. Prolonged stress is known to increase animal’s vulnerability through changes in behavioural competences and cognitive processes.
Chester Zoo was involved as a research partner at the start of MEME, as there were few local expertise and limited laboratory facilities for the study of faecal glucocorticoids in Malaysia. Therefore, we provided our wildlife endocrinology expertise and delivered an endocrinology training during Ee Phin’s PhD research. This training included elements on the methods and procedures to collect samples in the field, extract the desired hormone metabolites and analyse the results in the lab. Ee Phin’s study aimed to utilise non-invasive monitoring methods including endocrinology, parasitology and metagenomics to assess the health of wild elephants subject to different disturbances such as translocation and human-elephant conflict environments.