Tropical protected area management strategies have traditionally been heavily skewed towards high carbon, primary forests. This focus can result in areas, such as heavily logged forests, being viewed as low quality and thus offered up for conversion. We assessed the importance of intact to heavily logged forests for the Bornean elephant in the Malaysian state of Sabah. By modelling distributions of elephants throughout Sabah based on GPS telemetry tracking of 29 individuals and airborne three-dimensional forest mapping, we present the most wide-scale analysis of forest use by Bornean elephants to date. Forests of 13 m in stature were found to be of highest suitability for elephants, especially when these areas were flat and low lying. Forest statures of this order are consistent with degraded landscapes, often viewed as suitable for oil palm conversion. Less than a quarter of fully-protected intact forests in Sabah were of suitable stature for elephants, whereas disturbed commercial forest reserves were found to be highly suitable. We suggest that the importance of degraded landscapes for the future of elephants is currently underestimated, and thus, the need for the preservation of such habitats is not seen as a priority. The loss of these landscapes to large-scale agriculture could prove detrimental to the longevity of the species in Borneo.
- Carnegie Airborne Observatory
- Habitat suitability
- Habitat use
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation