Dung count leads to surprise Malaysian elephant find

Fri Jan 16, 2009 4:41am EST
 
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By Julie Goh

KUALA LUMPUR Jan 16 (Reuters Life) - An internationally recognized technique of counting dung has led to the discovery of the largest-known population of endangered Asian elephants living in Southeast Asia, researchers said Friday.

By counting dung piles, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Malaysia's Department of Wildlife and National Parks found 631 elephants living in the Taman Negara National Park, a 4,343-square kilometer protected area in the center of Peninsular Malaysia.

"The number (of elephants) is larger than initially thought. It was a pleasant surprise," said Melvin Gumal, director of Wildlife Conservation Society's conservation programs in Malaysia.

Asian elephants are endangered due to habitat loss and poaching. Some 30,000 to 50,000 are believed to be living in 13 Asian countries, according to WCS.

Gumal said the dung piles were counted between 2006 and 2007.

"People were unsure of how many elephants lived in the park before our survey, although there were good reasons to think that the population was substantial," he said.

Counting elephant dung piles to estimate population size is a scientifically proven technique that produces accurate figures.

There were no previous scientific population surveys for elephants in the park, WCS said.   Continued...