KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian police arrested six men and seized guns Wednesday (Oct 2) in connection with the brutal killing of a Borneo pygmy elephant, whose body was found with more than 70 bullet wounds and its tusks removed.
The male animal's mutilated corpse was discovered last week half-submerged in a river, tied by a rope to a tree on the bank, in Sabah state on Malaysian Borneo.
It was the latest death of an endangered pygmy elephant, whose numbers have been dwindling because they are targeted by poachers for their tusks and as agricultural plantations expand into their jungle habitat.
Five Malaysians and an illegal immigrant - aged 48 to 68 - were arrested in raids around Tawau district following a tip-off from a member of the public, senior police official Peter Umbuas said.
“Following the first arrest, three more raids were carried out at Felda Umas which led to the arrest of three men, while in a raid this afternoon two more were arrested in Felda Umas and Ladang Dumpas,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday.
"Of the six men, two were responsible for shooting the elephant while four others abetted. The illegal immigrant is suspected of storing the firearms while a smallholder concealed the elephant tusks.”
He did not reveal the nationality of the illegal immigrant.
Police seized a licensed pump gun, homemade air gun, three homemade shotguns, 53 bullet shell casings, 58 rounds of ammunition, a licence book for gun ownership, as well as ammunition and a mobile phone.
“It is believed that the pump gun and (homemade shotguns) were used to shoot the elephant,” the police official said.
The suspects were involved in cultivating palm oil and lived in a village on the edge of the jungle.
The men are being investigated under wildlife laws that ban the hunting of pygmy elephants, and face up to five years in jail and a hefty fine if found guilty.
They are also being probed under laws that ban possession of imitation guns.
There are only around 1,500 surviving Borneo pygmy elephants, a subspecies that - despite the name - can reach a height of up to three metres, according to the international conservation group WWF.
Rainforest-clad Borneo is the world's third-largest island and is shared between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.