Elephants in Malaysia are Attracted to Roadsides where they face Dangers
Elephants spend way too much time near roadsides in Malaysia. Photo Credit: Max Pixel
Why do elephants keep crossing roads in Peninsular Malaysia? That’s the question a team of researchers set out to answer in order to help find solutions to the growing risk of pachyderms being killed or injured on Malaysian roads.
To do so, the researchers equipped 17 wild Asian elephants with tracking devices in Peninsular Malaysia so they could monitor the jumbos’ movements. “Understanding when and where elephants cross the road can inform the design of mitigation measures,” explains Jamey Wadey, a researcher who participated in the five-year study. “There is strong and consistent evidence that the East-West Highway [in Peninsular Malaysia] constitutes a barrier to movement for elephants. We found most crossings took place at night.”
What the researchers have found is that not only are many elephants forced to keep crossing roads regularly because of the fragmentation of their forests but that, surprisingly, they are also attracted to roadsides. The pachyderms come to the side of roads in search of fresh grasses and other tasty plants that grow there.
“[C]ontrary to how elephants in Africa behave, Asian elephants seem strangely attracted to the roadside – possibly due to the more open habitat as a result of heavy logging and abundance of food along the grass verges,” Wadey explains.
Needless to say, the more elephants spend at the side of roads, the more they are exposed to the dangers of being hit by passing vehicles, thereby posing a threat both to themselves and to motorists.
So what to do? The researchers recommend several measures that can keep Malaysia’s elephants away from roadsides: we must stop depriving them of their habitats; we must stop constructing new roads in or near protected areas; we must build more wildlife crossings so elephants (and other wild animals) can get across roads safely; we must enforce speed limits and increase wildlife patrols in certain areas; and we must manage the habitats of elephants more effectively to coax elephants into staying there.
“[F]urther increases in traffic volume or road capacity could result in terrible consequences for elephant mobility between both sides of the road,” stresses Dr. Ahimsa Campos Arceiz, a wildlife expert at the School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus who led the study. “Our results have direct policy and management implication for elephant conservation in Peninsular Malaysia and other elephant range states.”