Ensuring safe passage on our roads for wildlife

The viaduct at KM157 on the East-West Highway in the Central Forest Spine.

PETALING JAYA: Abdul Jad Ayub was driving along the East–West Highway (JRTB) with his family when they had a close brush with an elephant.

Travelling with his wife and their four children, they were several kilometres from the Titiwangsa rest stop heading towards Gerik in Perak when he noticed oncoming cars from Jeli, Kelantan, flashing their high beam.

“At first, I thought an accident had occurred but it turned out to be a large elephant so I stopped.

“There was another car in front of me. As the elephant lumbered towards us, it appeared to inspect the front car before coming towards mine.

“It was about to walk past when my 10-year-old son started to squeal, most probably out of excitement and fear.

“The elephant must have been disturbed by the noise because it turned back and began pushing against my car.

“I could feel the elephant’s tusks scraping the undercarriage.

“My biggest fear was that it would tip my car over,” said Abdul Jad.

His wife captured the family’s ordeal on her phone which went viral, and showed large dents on one side of their car.

Right of way

For camper and 4WD adventurer Hamid Maulana, wildlife encounters are quite common.

“A year and half ago, I saw a herd of elephants, a male, a female and two calves near the Titiwangsa rest stop.

“I also spotted a leopard while driving towards Tasik Kenyir in Terengganu.

“It was dark and I thought it was a dog at first,” said Hamid.

The retired F&B consultant said sightings of wild animals were reported in Kluang, Mersing and the Endau back roads of Johor.

“There are forests beside the trunk roads leading from Bandar Penawar to Mersing.

“The rule of thumb is the animal always has right of way.

“The best is to stop and let them pass. Never get out of your vehicle to take selfies,” he said.

Hamid is hoping highway operators will take note of hotspots and instal warning signs to caution motorists to slow down.

He is also urging the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) to take a proactive role.

“Animals mainly cross roads because they are foraging for food,” said Hamid.

“One reason why more predators like tigers and leopards were seen on highways at one point was because the wild boar population got hit by African swine fever.

“I strongly feel that Perhilitan should engage the necessary expertise to ensure the forest has enough food.

“Growing fruit trees could be a solution so there will be no need for them to come out.

“A census should also be done to determine the animal population within a forest reserve.”

In Sabah, Koperasi Komuniti Pelancongan dan Kebudayaan Madai Bhd (Kokom) chairman Azmil Pillantong urged motorists plying the main road of Jalan Kunak-Lahad Datu to watch out for red leaf monkeys (Presbytis rubicunda).

Flanking this road is the Madai Baturong Forest Reserve and Sejadi Madai Baturong Centre, a tourist spot managed by Kokom where visitors can see red leaf monkeys in their natural habitat.

“In addition to red leaf monkeys, the area is also home to the Bornean gibbon and long and short-tailed macaques.

“These monkeys are known to cross the main road to get to the other side of the forest in the morning and evening,” said Azmil.

However, the journey is often fraught with danger for them as motorists plying this route are known to speed.

“There are no signs to warn motorists of monkeys crossing the road.

“We have contacted Perhilitan about this,” said Azmil, adding that accidents involving motorists and monkeys occur about four times a year.

“Though the number may not seem high, the monkey that was run over could be an endangered species, the alpha of a larger group or may have young ones depending on it.

“They are also part of the food chain. Monkeys are hunted by leopards.

“They also act as nature’s tree pruners because they eat young shoots.

“When a monkey is killed, there will be a chain reaction within the species’ population as well as the environment.”

A Malayan tiger became roadkill after a vehicle rammed into during the wee hours of the morning near Lentang, in Bentong. https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2024/05/16/tiger-killed-after-being-hit-by-car-in-bentong?utm_medium=colorwall&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwZXh0bgNhZW0CMTEAAR1vcb2N8wWo1UZW6a1MWvUAkiWxWnRZnqipiqdfsJ8_NsIpUctHtWSd8K8_aem_Ab2Nb_UiQYmUw__lPT5Ez6YLv8xQ92lPNNVdr4nxT1kEfuoQZJlQrqXCDmiJZrKFDpWioc2A2iPJL3dwpypQ_PDQ
Crossings for animals

Perak Perhilitan Department director Yusoff Shariff said several measures had been taken to protect wildlife from becoming roadkill.

Among them are building viaducts, adding more streetlights, installing electric fences and planting fruit trees.

He said viaducts were utilised by wildlife as a crossing as seen in footage captured on closed circuit television camera (CCTV) especially of elephants.

“Viaducts are bridges that allow animals to cross beneath while vehicles travel above.

“We spread a special type of salt called ‘jenut’ on the ground.

“The elephants like to lick this salt and this will encourage them to follow the trail and go beneath the viaducts to cross the highway,

“Elephants are commonly the leaders. When they take a route, other animals will follow.”

Yusoff said the challenge was that some roads such as the Jeli-Gerik route was built in the 1980s.

He said there was a lack of awareness about animal conservation then compared to now.

Human behavioural changes were needed to protect wildlife, said Dr Reuben Clements, a sustainable finance specialist with the Zoological Society of London.

In 2013, Clements carried out research on viaducts in Terengganu and found that they were not effective as animal crossings.

“Viaducts appear to be more effective in countries that have strong enforcement efforts to deter poaching activities,” he said.

“Poachers frequently camp underneath the viaducts.”

He said humans needed to change their behaviour.

“People need to slow down when they are nearing wildlife crossings.

“In countries like Thailand, there was an experiment to change motorists’ behaviour.

“Apparently, life-sized cutouts of tapirs placed along highways where motorists frequently speed, worked,” said Clements.

He added that as long as forests keep getting cleared, there would be roadkill.

“Federal governments can play their role by incentivising state governments to protect more forests so that there will be fewer displaced animals,” he said.

It was also reported that 3D technology was used to protect animals on Thailand’s roads.

In 2021, 3D optical illusions on roads prevented cars from hitting animals in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Khao Yai National Park.

Images of banteng, a species of wild bovine, and a family of elephants appeared to jump out at drivers at the entrance and exit of a reservoir at the park, where animals usually visit to get water.

In May this year, a 130kg Malayan tiger became roadkill at the Kuala Lumpur-Karak Expressway near Lentang in Bentong, Pahang.

Persatuan Pelindung Harimau Malaysia (Rimau) a non-governmental organisation under the stewardship of Lara Ariffin, described the death as heart-wrenching, given the low population of tigers in the country.

An elephant and calf captured on camera near Belum, off the East-West Highway. — Hamid Maulana
An elephant and calf captured on camera near Belum, off the East-West Highway. — Hamid Maulana

“This tragic incident underscores the urgent need for heightened awareness and proactive measures to safeguard our wildlife.

“Stricter measures on roads where wildlife is known to cross must be implemented, including reducing speed limits, installing rumble strips and warning signs and enhancing enforcement.

“The death of this majestic creature serves as a poignant reminder that it takes a nation to save the Malayan tiger.

“Its fate depends on all government departments, highway concessionaires and the Malaysian public coming together to ensure all efforts are taken to protect our precious wildlife,” she said.

In March, an elephant calf died in Kluang after it was rammed by a train between Renggam and Mengkibol.

Two other elephants, believed to be with the calf before the incident took place, managed to cross the railway tracks to the main road towards a farm nearby, said Kluang OCPD Asst Comm Bahrin Mohd Noh, who added the area was dark with no lighting on the tracks.

A 3D optical illusion used to prevent cars from hitting animals in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Khao Yai National Park, Thailand. — The Nation/ANN
A 3D optical illusion used to prevent cars from hitting animals in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Khao Yai National Park, Thailand. — The Nation/ANN
Putting up signage and lights

Perak Public Works Department (JKR) director Datuk Hamdan Ali said, “There is a need to consider the impact on wildlife habitats when it comes to construction of highways in areas where there is a high population of animals.

“It will cause habitat fragmentation as food resources, social relationships and breeding opportunities are the main factors influencing their movement.

“Among the steps that can be taken is the preparation of a wildlife crossing or viaduct.

“The construction of a viaduct requires high costs and detailed study.

“For example, the 200m-long viaduct on the East-West Highway, which was completed in 2015, cost RM26mil,” he said.

The viaduct was constructed at KM157 on JRTB under the Central Forest Spine (CFS) initiative.

The CSF project was established in 2014 with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

It is divided into four main forest complexes and covers 5.3 million hectares, encompassing eight states: Pahang, Johor, Perak, Terengganu, Selangor, Kelantan, Kedah and Negri Sembilan.

Hamdan said there was no record of studies done on wildlife crossings during the construction of JRTB, which started in 1970 and was completed in 1982.

It is believed at that time, the primary habitats of wildlife in the Temenggor and Belum forest reserves were undisturbed.

Hamdan said studies on ecological viaducts were initiated by Perhilitan in collaboration with non-governmental organisations (NGO) such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF Malaysia) and Management of the Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (Meme) using camera traps and installation of GPS collars on wild elephants.

“Since the JRTB’s alignment runs through wildlife habitats, it is impossible to deter animals, such as elephants, from crossing the road.

“As such, Perhilitan is now moving towards the concept of coexistence between humans and elephants.

“This concept has begun to be practised in other countries that have Asian elephant species.”

Hamdan said among the efforts carried out by Perhilitan on the JRTB was the installation of 17 wildlife elephant crossing signs, nine from Gerik to Jeli |and eight in the opposite direction.

There is also an elephant billboard sign installed in both directions of this road.

In addition, Perhilitan through JKR has installed 144 solar-type street lamp poles in 17 hotspots for wild elephant crossings along the JTRB (up to the Gerik-Jeli border) at a cost of RM1.7mil, which was allocated by the Finance Ministry in 2023.

“The installation of street lamps at the location of elephant crossing hotspots is very important as elephants are often active at night,” said Hamdan.

Perhilitan has made proposals for JKR to instal solar-type street lamps in another 20 hotspots as well as an additional 40 units of elephant crossing signs along the JRTB up to the border of Gerik and Jeli by this year, said Hamdan in outlining future plans for wildlife protection. — GRACE CHEN and SHEILA SRI PRIYA
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