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At the start of 2018, the United Nations estimated that world population had reached 7.6 billion. Today, there are few untouched natural habitats left, where wildlife can live without crossing paths with humans and our activities. Linear infrastructures, such as roads, are rapidly proliferating all over the world.
Elephants, Roads and Drivers:
Case Study of Gerik-Jeli Highway
At the start of 2018, the United Nations estimated that world population had reached 7.6 billion.
Today, there are few untouched natural habitats left, where wildlife can live without crossing
paths with humans and our activities. Linear infrastructures, such as roads, are rapidly
proliferating all over the world.
Vivienne Loke Alicia Solana-
Dr Pazil bin
Abdul Patah
Salman Saaban Dr Ahimsa
Dr Wong Ee
Jamie Wadey Dr Vivek
Southeast Asia, in particular, is
undergoing rapid economic growth
and experiencing a massive,
unprecedented expansion of road
coverage. This is also the region
with a large number of threatened
megafauna, such as elephants, tigers,
and tapirs. The largest terrestrial
animal in Asia, the Asian Elephant
(Elephas maximus), is already
endangered due to the rapid decline
in its population, due mostly to habitat
loss and the resulting human-
elephant conflict in the form of crop
raidi ng (Fernando & Pastorini, 2011). The
expected infrastructure development
over the coming decades will most
likely further threaten elephants and
other megafauna in the region.
Roads affect animal behaviour,
movement and distribution. Roads
also affect wild habitat by modifying
the environmental conditions in their
vicinity, for example, by allowing
more sunlight to penetrate to the
ground and altering humidity and
temperature. This is known as the
“edge effect” and the result is changes
to plant and wildlife populations as
well as community structures in areas
bordering roads and in other habitat
Roads impede wildlife movement
and ability to use resources in the
habitat. On a larger scale, roads
can reduce landscape permeability
and connectivity b y a c t i n g a s
barriers that cause fragmentation
and isolation of wildlife populations.
Small populations are usually more
vulnerable to local extinction due to
inbreeding and stochastic events.
Elephants are particularly
susceptible to landscape changes
and the effect of roads as barriers.
They are intelligent and sentient
beings with a high attachment to
traditional and very large home
ranges. Adult females, especially
the matriarchs, store in their memory
intricate details of the lan dscap es,
including movement routes that
have paid rich dividends in the
past (e.g. they remember where
to find resources such as salt-licks,
fruiting trees, grasslands and water).
This perhaps explains why general
patterns of elephant movements and
habitat use have remained relatively
unchanged for more than a century
when one compares Sanderson’s
(1878) description of elephant
movements with a study conducted
by Sukumar (1989) in the same region
of southern India.
Peninsular Malaysia is an important
stronghold for wildlife, including Asian
Elephants (Salman et al., 2011) .
Development has led to many land
use changes in the country. The
peninsula has lost its forest cover from
nearly 80% in the 1940s to less than
Figure 1: Map showing the frequency of road
crossings by GPS collared elephants along the
Gerik-Jeli Highway
Frequency Elephants 608
37% in 2010 (Miettinen, Shi, & Liew
Recognising the importance of the
country’s biodiversity and the dangers
of a “business as usual” approach,
the Malaysian Government has
developed legislation and policies
to protect its wildlife. The Central
Forest Spine (CFS) is a very important
national land-use master plan to
maintain habitat connectivity for
wildlife across major habitat patches
in Peninsular Malaysia (DTCP, 2009).
Figure 2: Juvenile elephant killed in a car
accident on 16 June, 2017, along the Gerik-Jeli
Figure 3: A translocated elephant killed by
poachers for the tusks
The implementation of the CFS plan
involved the construction of several
viaducts under existing highways
to facilitate wildlife crossing. The
conservation of Asian Elephants
in the peninsula is guided by the
National Elephant Conservation
Action Plan (DWNP, 2013). Scientific
evidence from research will greatly
help the implementation of these
national plans. Here we present
some of our on-going work on
understanding how a major road
affects the movements of elephants
in Belum-Temengor, a priority
landscape for elephant and tiger
Our study (Wadey et al., 2018)
used GPS telemetry data and a
mechanistic movement modelling
framework to understand when
and where wild elephants crossed
the Gerik-Jeli Highway, a 120km
long road that bisected the Belum-
Temengor Landscape (BTL, Fig. 1).
The highway is fully asphalted,
with a width of 2-3 lanes (~25 m), and
often has additional structures such
as steel and concrete barriers as well
as concrete drains along its sides.
Between 1970 and 1995, the forest
reserves that run parallel to the road
were heavily logged.
Wadey et al., (2018) monitored
17 wild elephants (10 local and 7
translocated from conflict areas) and
found that local elephants crossed
the road 14 times more frequently
than translocated ones, indicating
that familiarity with the landscape
was important for elephants (Fig.
1). Elephants also crossed the road
predominantly at night (81% of
crossings were between 7.00 p.m.
and 7.00 a.m.), when traffic density
was lower. A study done in India found
that Asian Elephants crossed roads in
a wildlife sanctuary in order to get to
a water source during the dry season,
but they also showed higher levels of
agitation in response to disturbance
from vehicles (Vidya & Thuppil,
The Malaysian study also found
that the Gerik-Jeli Highway acted
as a strong barrier to elephant
movements, with an 80% reduction in
However, the relationship
between elephants and the road
is very nuanced and although the
road seriously disrupts elephants’
availability to move from one
side to the other, it also acts as an
attractor as elephants spend a lot of
time feeding on the abundant fodder
on the roadside.
In another study in the same
landscape, we found that elephants
staying near the Gerik-Jeli Highway
were able to consume more of their
preferred food, such as grass and
other early succession plants, while
elephants far (> 5km) away from the
road had to consume more woody
plants (Yamamoto-Ebina et al.,
2016) .
Asian Elephants are known to be
edge specialists (Campos-Arceiz,
2013) and so they are attracted
to the roadsides. They are often
labelled as mega-gardeners of
the forest due to their important
ecological role as agents of seed
dispersal (i.e. they consume large-
seeded fruits like mango and
durian and disperse the seeds in
new places for the next generation
of trees to grow; Campos-Arceiz &
Blake, 2011). Given that the road
affects their diet and movements,
elephants that stay near the
road end up consuming a much
simpler diet, with less wild fruit and
they disperse seeds over shorter
distances than elephants living in
the primary rainforest.
The steady increase in traffic
volume (~4% annually between 2005
and 2014; MoWM, 2014) along the
Gerik-Jeli Highway can eventually
deter elephants from crossing the
road altogether, majorly impacting
habitat connectivity between
Belum and Temengor. In 2017,
two elephants, a juvenile and a
sub-adult, were killed in a collision
with a vehicle on this highway
(Fig. 2).
In addition, two of the nine (22%)
males we tracked in the Belum-
Temengor landscape were poached
for their ivory (Fig. 3) within 3 km
from the road. The BTL is considered
one of the hotspots for poachers.
According to WWF-Malaysia (2011),
there are at least 80 access points
which facilitate poaching along
the 120km highway in BTL. The road
has become what is called an
ecological sink (or ecological trap)
because elephants are attracted by
the abundant food but also suffer
negative effects on their movements
and safety due to collisions and
Towards the end of our study, the
Malaysian Government had
constructed a wildlife viaduct along
the Gerik-Jeli Highway. Our elephant
movement data was collected prior
to the establishment of the viaduct
and we cannot, therefore, judge its
effectiveness, although before the
viaduct construction we detected
A MEME’s satellite-collared elephant walking near the barrier along the Gerik-Jeli Highway
only one road-crossing event in that
Follow-up studies are now
necessary to monitor the movement
of elephants near the viaduct to
assess its effectiveness in facilitating
landscape connectivity for elephants
and other wildlife. In any case, a
single viaduct across such a long
stretch of road is not sufficient to
provide landscape connectivity
for elephants. The viaduct should
therefore, be considered as part of
a suite of mitigation tools, rather
than as a silver bullet to maintain
permeability in the BTL.
Although much has been
discussed about green infrastructure
(e.g. viaducts), the role of infrastructure
user behaviour has been largely
neglected so far, in spite of its high
potential to mitigate the impact of
roads on wildlife.
The predominant determinant of
the risk of motorist-wildlife collision is
vehicular speed. Reducing speed,
either through speed limits or physical
barriers such as speed bumps, will
go a long way towards reducing
collisions. The enforcement of low
speed limits in wildlife habitats should
therefore be a priority. But even when
motorists adhere to speed limits,
collisions with wildlife can still happen
when motorists fail to perceive and
react to the presence of wildlife.
When motorists do not anticipate
encountering hazards, such as in
rural and forest areas, they are prone
to “inattentional blindness” (i.e. failure
to perceive something that exists in
their field of vision). This means that
while motorists “see” an animal on the
roadside, their brains fail to “perceive”
it, so the motorists will either not react
or react only when it is too late. The risk
increases if motorists are driving faster
in rural and forest areas than they
usually do in urban areas.
Inattentional blindness can
also occur when the driver is fully
engaged in focusing on stimuli
relevant to driving (e.g. other vehicles
on the road) and does not perceive
an additional stimulus (e.g. wildlife on
the roadside). Cognitive psychology
has identified that it is easier for us
to detect an additional stimulus that
shares features and characteristics
with the task at hand than it is to detect
a vastly different stimulus. For example,
studies have shown that drivers
perceive pedestrians and animals
more readily in an urban context as
opposed to a rural context (Palmer
& Blink, 2013), implying that drivers
may associate non-urban driving
with hazard-free smooth driving. This
is indeed a problem when it comes
to motorists driving through forested
areas with wildlife crossing the road!
To overcome inattentional
blindness, one possible intervention
is to provide artificial stimuli at the
start of the highway (e.g. a life-size
elephant statue and sound) to prime
the motorist’s attention towards
wildlife presence in the area. After
priming, the driver should be more
likely to self-regulate the driving
speed and spot wildlife by the road,
thereby avoiding collisions. This might
help to reduce vehicle accidents,
save human lives and avoid
wildlife roadkills. Additionally, where
appropriate, traffic management
during the night may help mitigate
the loss of permeability of roads to
To mitigate the impact of roads on
elephants and other wildlife, we
recommend the following:
1. Avoid expanding the number of
lanes on the Gerik-Jeli Highway
and the creation of new roads
in the BTL, as road expansion will
further reduce permeability.
2. Encourage responsible driving
behaviour on roads traversing
important wildlife habitats in
Malaysia. Consider the
implementation of psychological
techniques aimed at safer driving
by priming motorists to be more
vigilant about their surroundings
and to self-regulate their driving
3. Establish low speed limits and
enforce them through awareness
signs, speed bumps, speed
Elephants crossing the Gerik-Jeli Highway
traps and fines to reduce road
accidents and wildlife roadkills.
Consider managing traffic volume
at night.
4. Consider habitat management
(e.g. long-term reforestation)
near the road to reduce grass land s
and avoid the concentration of
elephants on roadsides.
5. Monitor the effectiveness of the
viaduct on habitat connectivity
for elephants and other wildlife.
6. Implement extensive enforcement
patrolling and other anti-poaching
efforts along highways and roads
bisecting forested areas, especially
at viaducts and areas frequently
used by wildlife.
7. Recognise the Belum-Temengor
Landscape as an important
elephant habitat that should be
treasured and promoted as part
of the country’s natural heritage.
Our research highlights the
importance of considering the
impact of infrastructure development
on megafauna and other wildlife,
especially in South East Asia, a region
with a large number of threatened
megafauna and with large-scale
infrastructure development plans
for the coming decades. Instead
of working in silo, engineers, wildlife
biologists and psychologists should
work together to develop creative
solutions to help conserve the
rich biodiversity for our future
A family of elephants in the forest within Belum-
Temengor Landscape
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... The viaducts are part of the larger Central Forest Spine (CFS) project (DTCP, 2005) to connect fragmented forests in Peninsular Malaysia. A total of three wildlife viaducts project were established in 2006 to act as safe highway crossing points for wildlife within forest complexes in Hulu Terengganu , three viaducts have been constructed and completed in 2014 along Kuala Lipis -Gua Musang highway to provide corridors for animals between Sungai Yu Forest Reserve and Tanum Forest Reserve which is connecting to Taman Negara (Suhaida et al., 2017), and viaducts built along the Gerik-Jeli Highway (Wong et al., 2018) to help elephants or other wildlife to crossroads. However, the initiatives mentioned have not been assessed thoroughly for their effectiveness. ...
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A total of 115 Malayan tapirs were recorded as roadkill in Peninsular Malaysia from 2006 to 2019 with the mean number 8.21 ± 1.69 individuals per year. The highest number of roadkill occurred in 2017, followed by 2014, 2019, 2015 and 2016. There were more recorded roadkill in the dry season (10.67 ± 0.71) compared to the wet season (8.50 ± 0.88), though not statistically significant. According to state, Terengganu (33) experienced the highest number of roadkill, followed by Pahang (26), Johor (20), Negeri Sembilan (14) and Selangor (13), while, Kelantan (6), Melaka (2) and Perak (1) with fewer than ten recorded incidents.
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The Felda Aring - Tasik Kenyir Road was identified as one of the most threatening roads to wildlife in Malaysia. The present study was conducted to assess the road crossing activities involving the medium- to large-mammal species due to the problem stated. The objectives of this study were to (1) predict the suitability of the road and its surroundings as the roaming areas for the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus, n = 104) and Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus, n = 66), (2) identify the mammalian species inhabiting the forest beside the road, (3) compare the forest’s common species [photographic capture rate index (PCRI) > 10/ detection probability (P) ≥ 0.05] with the ones utilising the road crossing structures; the viaducts and the bridges, and (4) determine the most impacted species from traffic collisions. The road and its surroundings were classified as moderately suitable to the elephant and tapir (suitability values = 0.4 - 0.8). A total of 16 mammal species were recorded at the forest edges, in which the wild pig (Sus scrofa) (PCRI = 118.96, P = 0.3719 ± 0.027), barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak) (PCRI = 68.89, P = 0.2219 ± 0.0232), sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) (PCRI = 11.13, P = 0.0507 ± 0.0159), tapir (PCRI = 11.13, P = 0.0469 ± 0.0118), elephant (PCRI = 10.7, P = 0.0787 ± 0.0195) and Malayan porcupine (Hystrix brachyura) (PCRI = 10.7, P = 0.103 ± 0.0252) were the common species utilising the crossing structures. In contrast, the Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) and leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) were the most frequently hit species on the road [F(7,398) = 28.53, p < 0.0005]. The present study found that large-mammal species were utilising the crossing structures at a higher frequency, whereas more medium-mammal species were involved in traffic collisions.
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Little is known about the food habits of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia. In Peninsular Malaysia, elephant habitat has been extensively modified by human intervention in the past few decades. Most of the primary forest has been logged or given way to plantations, infrastructure, and human inhabitation. Here we compare the food habits of wild elephants in three habitats of Belum-Temengor Forest Complex (BTFC): (1) primary forest, (2) selectively-logged forest, and (3) by the side of a road that bisects the forest complex. We used microhistological fecal analysis to describe elephants' diet. Elephant dung in the primary forest was mainly composed of non-grass monocotyledonous leaves (22%), woody debris (32%), and woody fiber (20%). Those in the logged forest were similar; non-grass monocotyledonous leaves accounted for 33%, woody debris for 24%, and fiber for 26%. At the roadside, elephant dung was dominated by grasses (47%). We conclude that by the road elephants shift their diet into grasses, suggesting that the road acts like a large forest gap, promoting the availability of grasses and other early succession plants. Elephant feeding by the road poses potential conservation conflicts by means of road accidents and increased contact with people.
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I recently read a student's paper saying 'as more forests are cleared and fragmented, elephants have no choice but to encroach into plantations in their search for food, water, and mates' and the myth of le bon sauvage immediately came to mind. The myth of the noble savage, popular in the 18 th and 19 th centuries, has to some extent impregnated conservation biology's philosophy in recent decades. This myth is an idealization of people living in traditional societies, attributing them a noble spirit and behavior. Accordingly, conservation biologists have often assumed that human traditional societies always live sustainably and in harmony with their environment. Now we know, however, that conservation by indigenous people is uncommon (Raymond 2007) and that, for example, stone-age societies wiped out over 90% and 70% of large mammal species when they reached Australia and the Americas (Barnosky et al. 2004). The myth of the noble beast is very similar and also widely spread in conservation biology. Large herbivores and carnivores often come into conflict with people not because they have no other option but as part of their optimal foraging strategy (Stephens 1986). For example, food for elephants can be very limited in a pristine tropical rainforest yet abundant in nearby plantations and human-dominated landscapes (crops and early succession plants are excellent elephant forage). In this situation, elephants may choose to come out of the forest we consider their legitimate habitat and 'encroach' into human areas, resulting in the well-known human-elephant conflict. The key driver of conflict in this scenario is not the amount of forest available for the elephant but the amount of interface between forest and crops.
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The movement and habitat utilization patterns were studied in an Asian elephant population during 1981–83 within a 1130 km ² area in southern India (11° 30′ N to 12° 0′ N and 76° 50′ E to 77° 15′ E). The study area encompasses a diversity of vegetation types from dry thorn forest (250–400 m) through deciduous forest (400–1400 m) to stunted evergreen shola forest and grassland (1400–1800 m). Home range sizes of some identified elephants were between 105 and 320 km ² . Based on the dry season distribution, five different elephant clans, each consisting of between 50 and 200 individuals and having overlapping home ranges, could be defined within the study area. Seasonal habitat preferences were related to the availability of water and the palatability of food plants. During the dry months (January-April) elephants congregated at high densities of up to five individuals km ⁻² in river valleys where browse plants had a much higher protein content than the coarse tall grasses on hill slopes. With the onset of rains of the first wet season (May-August) they dispersed over a wider area at lower densities, largely into the tall grass forests, to feed on the fresh grasses, which then had a high protein value. During the second wet season (September-December), when the tall grasses became fibrous, they moved into lower elevation short grass open forests. The normal movement pattern could be upset during years of adverse environmental conditions. However, the movement pattern of elephants in this region has not basically changed for over a century, as inferred from descriptions recorded during the nineteenth century.
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With expanding human populations, exponentially increasing motor vehicles, and public roads running through Protected Areas, road traffic is becoming an increasing concern in many countries. While studies have traditionally examined the role of highways in fragmenting and decimating animal populations, we carried out one of the first studies of the immediate behavioural responses, rather than inferring eventual consequences, of motorists and wildlife towards each other. We inspected variables such as vehicle size, type, and origin, and elephant group composition, amongst others, to study motorist–elephant responses along highways in Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, southern India. Based on 1521 motorist–elephant interactions, we found higher odds of more severe to less severe motorist response in passenger (versus goods) vehicles, visiting (versus local) vehicles, and in vehicles of particular size classes. Overall, elephant responses to vehicles increased in severity with increasing vehicle size and motorist response. Although motorists in heavy vehicles caused the least disturbance, elephants were most affected by heavy vehicles (because of their size) and generally tolerated smaller vehicles, even those that created significant disturbance. We suggest that an understanding of sensory biases of animals is important in the management of human–wildlife conflict as these could lead to the outcome of interactions being contrary to expectation. This is also one of the first uses of ordinal multinomial generalized linear models to studies of human–wildlife conflict, and we suggest its application to the data often obtained in this field.
Roads cause negative impacts on wildlife by directly and indirectly facilitating habitat destruction and wildlife mortality. We used GPS telemetry to study the movements of 17 wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) and a mechanistic modelling framework to analyse elephant response to a road bisecting their habitat in Belum- Temengor, northern Peninsular Malaysia. Our objectives were to (1) describe patterns of road crossing, (2) quantify road effects on movement patterns and habitat preference, and (3) quantify individual variation in elephant responses to the road. Elephants crossed the road on average 3.9 ± 0.6 times a month, mostly (81% of times) at night, and crossing was not evenly distributed in space. The road caused a strong and consistent barrier effect for elephants, reducing permeability an average of 79.5%. Elephants, however, were attracted to the proximity to the road, where secondary forest and open habitats are more abundant and contain more food resources for elephants. Although the road acts as a strong barrier to movement (a direct effect), local changes to vegetation communities near roads attract elephants (an indirect effect). Given that risk of mortality (from poaching and vehicle collisions) increases near roads, roads may, therefore, create attractive sinks for elephants. To mitigate the impact of this road we recommend avoiding further road expansion, reducing and enforcing speed limits, limiting traffic volume at night, managing habitat near the road and, importantly, enhancing pa- trolling and other anti-poaching efforts. Our results are relevant for landscapes throughout Asia and Africa, where existing or planned roads fragment elephant habitats.
'Looked-but-failed-to-see' vehicle collisions occur when a driver gives all indications of having responsibly evaluated the driving situation yet still fails to see a hazard that is clearly in view. The experience maps well onto the psychological phenomenon called inattentional blindness (IB). IB occurs when a viewer fails to see an unexpected object that is clearly visible, particularly if they are concentrating on an additional primary task. In this study, a driving-related IB task was used to explore whether an unexpected stimulus (US) such as a pedestrian or animal, is more likely to be seen in country or city-related driving scenarios if it is congruent or incongruent with the semantic context of the scenes, and thus congruent or incongruent with the attentional set of the viewer. Overall, participants were more likely to see the US in the City scenarios, which also demonstrated a borderline effect of congruency, with incongruent stimuli less likely to be seen than congruent stimuli. Analyses suggested that driver experience was related to detection of the US in City scenarios but not Country scenarios. However, analyses also revealed that participants generally tended to drive in city rather than country environments, thus prompting speculation that the results may reflect attentional requirements for familiar and unfamiliar driving scenarios. Thus we suggest that the analysis of the driving situation, and the attentional set that we develop to filter information, change when the driving situation is more familiar.
Insular Southeast Asia experienced the highest level of deforestation among all humid tropical regions of the world during the 1990s. Owing to the exceptionally high biodiversity in Southeast Asian forest ecosystems and the immense amount of carbon stored in forested peatlands, deforestation in this region has the potential to cause serious global consequences. In this study, we analysed deforestation rates in insular Southeast Asia between 2000 and 2010 utilizing a pair of 250 m spatial resolution land cover maps produced with regional methodology and classification scheme. The results revealed an overall 1.0% yearly decline in forest cover in insular Southeast Asia (including the Indonesian part of New Guinea) with main change trajectories to plantations and secondary vegetation. Throughout the region, peat swamp forests experienced clearly the highest deforestation rates at an average annual rate of 2.2%, while lowland evergreen forests declined by 1.2%/yr. In addition, the analysis showed remarkable spatial variation in deforestation levels within the region and exposed two extreme concentration areas with over 5.0% annual forest loss: the eastern lowlands of Sumatra and the peatlands of Sarawak, Borneo. Both of these areas lost around half of their year 2000 peat swamp forest cover by 2010. As a whole this study has shown that deforestation has continued to take place on high level in insular Southeast Asia since the turn of the millennium. These on-going changes not only endanger the existence of numerous forest species endemic to this region, but they further increase the elevated carbon emissions from deforested peatlands of insular Southeast Asia thereby directly contributing to the rising carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere.