PETALING JAYA: Speed limits need to be enforced at the Gerik-Jeli Highway to prevent accidents with endangered wildlife like elephants crossing the highway, say animal conservationists.
This is the view of experts like Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME) principal investigator Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, who said that this problem would get worse as Malaysia continues to develop its infrastructure.
“When we drive through the habitat of wildlife and we go fast, we are likely to kill small mammals, so going a bit slower can prevent this. When it comes to elephants, you are saving yourself as well,” he said.
Campos-Arceiz added that people need to be aware that they are driving through a wildlife habitat and should not need to speed in such an ecologically sensitive area.
“We need to prevent traffic and control the speed limit on the (Gerik-Jeli) highway. We recommend a lower speed limit, and we recommend enforcement; we also recommend speed bumps and good lighting so there is good visibility at night,” he said.
Last Friday, a two-year-old male elephant was killed in a hit and run accident on the highway some 130km from Gerik.
Perak Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) state officers found its carcass lying in a pool of blood by the side of the highway.
Campos-Arceiz said that infrastructure development like the Gerik-Jeli highway is fragmenting the forest, endangering wildlife movement and habitats.
He added that he fears that future expansions of the highway would lead to more serious issues for the threatened wildlife in the area.
Campos-Arceiz pointed out that in 2010, a big female elephant was killed after being hit by a truck on the Gerik-Jeli highway while an elephant was suffered minor injuries after it was hit by a vehicle in 2014.
Similar views were shared by Gerik-based MEME field manager Alicia Solana Mena, who said that the highway is an accident-prone area, especially because of high lorry activity.
"There is a lot of roadkill here, you can see dead langur, macaques and wild boar every week. Last year, a tiger was killed in a hit and run," she said, adding that the Belum-Temenggor Forest Complex has a high wildlife density but the highway cutting through the forest has made it a dangerous place for them.
Solana Mena, who was at the scene of the accident involving the baby elephant, believes that it had died on the spot after being hit on the head by a speeding vehicle.
“There were many pieces of debris scattered around, but no sign nor clues as to the make of the car or the identity of the driver,” she said, adding that the blood and elephant footprints and dung from the herd was still fresh when she arrived at the scene at 9am last Friday.
According to Solana Mena’s survey of the area, the baby was travelling with a herd of approximately seven elephants.
She added that the herd was believed to have been looking for food and was eating grass at the side of the highway before crossing the highway at a spot where there are no metal barricades.
"The accident happened along about 700 metres of straight road, so the visibility must have been high as it happened early in the morning. It is unlikely that the driver could not see the herd," said Solana Mena.
She said that she suspects the driver was speeding and could not brake in time, adding that there is a possibility that driver was sleepy or distracted when the accident happened.
Solana Mena also said that she believes that after the calf was hit, the herd stayed to mourn its death before leaving the scene.
"It is natural behaviour for elephants to mourn the death of a family member; the mother and aunts would usually be around and try to wake him up, but they had left by the time we arrived," she said.
Meanwhile, Perhilitan director Loo Kean Seong has advised motorists to be extra careful when driving along the Gerik-Jeli highway.
"We have already erected signboards to notify motorists that there would be elephant crossings along stretches of the highway, so they need to be more responsible, especially when they are driving late at night or early in the morning,” said Loo.
In 2012, a pregnant tiger was killed by an MPV while crossing the East Coast Expressway Phase 2 (LPT2), sparking a call for the authorities to build safe animal crossings for wildlife to cross highways safely.