Elephants in Pulau Tekong (1990) and Ubin (1991)

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On 29 May 1990, 3 elephants were spotted on Pulau Tekong. The elephants were suspected to have swum across the Straits of Johor. They were believed to have come from Pengerang, Eastern Johor.[1] The elephants were officially captured on 7 June 1990, around a week after they were sighted.[2] Another elephant was found on Pulau Ubin on 1 March 1991 and was eventually captured on 9 March 1991.[3]

Pulau Tekong elephants (1990)[edit | edit source]

The inset photo from an article covering the Tekong incident depicts the wild male elephant being led up the truck with a trained female elephant from the Singapore Zoo. Photo from The Lazy Lizard Tales.
A comic that accompanied one of the articles covering the Tekong incident. It reads "Can't a guy take a vacation without the whole neighbourhood dropping in?". Photo from The Lazy Lizard Tales.

On 29 May 1990, some national servicemen on Pulau Tekong reported sightings of 3 male elephants.[4] On 30 May 1990, an officer from the Singapore Armed Forces visited the zoo with samples of recent animal droppings.[5] The zoo confirmed that the droppings were in fact from elephants and sent three staff to Pulau Tekong to track the elephants. The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) had also instructed the Singapore Zoological Gardens to promptly capture the elephants unharmed so as to ensure the safety of NS men who were training on the island.[6]


Prior to capturing the elephants, The Singapore Zoo contacted the Malaysian Wildlife Department’s Elephant Capture and Translocation Unit (ECTU), as they had more experience handling cases where wild elephants were required to be captured unharmed.[7]

Capturing the elephants[edit | edit source]

On 6 June 1990, expert trackers along with the two trained female elephants, Cek Mek and Mek Bunga arrived on Pulau Tekong. The team managed to subdue 2 of the elephants the next day after darting them with a tranquilizer gun.[8] The elephants were feeding on bananas when they were darted. Each elephant had both their front legs and one of their hind legs chained to a tree to prevent them from escaping. The last elephant was spotted and darted by trackers when it returned to the same spot where the two other elephants were previously tranquilized.[9]


The trackers from Singapore Zoo used the two trained elephants to calm the nerves of the three captured elephants. To load the captured elephants onto the lorry, they were each individually chained between the two trained elephants. The trained elephants then led the captured elephant up onto the lorry. By 10 June 1990, all three elephants were loaded onto the lorries and taken to their new home at Endau-Rompin National Park in Malaysia at the border of Johor and Pahang.[10] Before they were released into the reserve, they were given vitamins and injected with antibiotics to ward off any possible infections.[11]

Responses[edit | edit source]

Some Singaporeans were in favour of keeping the elephants in Pulau Tekong.[12] They argued that the South-east Asian sub-species of elephants were in danger of extinction in the wild and that Pulau Tekong could a suitable habitat for the elephants to live in. According to the proponents of this idea, Pulau Tekong could be a reserve as the island was sparsely populated and there were no predators to harm the elephants.[13]


However, the executive director of the Singapore Zoological Gardens Bernard Harrison expressed that due to Pulau Tekong’s main purpose as a military training ground, it was not suitable for the elephants.[14] He explained that the animals would be frightened by the live firing exercises conducted and the loud noises could cause agitation. As a result, the elephants could possibly attack the servicemen on the island.[15]

Pulau Ubin elephants (1991)[edit | edit source]

A Straits Times article from 3rd March 1991 explaining how the elephant in Pulau Ubin will be caught. Photo from The Lazy Lizard Tales.

On 1 March 1991, a 64-year-old villager encountered an elephant while he was praying at a shrine in Pulau Ubin. According to the executive director of the Singapore Zoological Gardens Bernard Harrison, the elephant displayed "very uncharacteristic behaviour" as he had hit the man on his head using its trunk.[16] The man suffered light injuries and was admitted to Changi Hospital for the swell on his forehead and small cuts on his nose and right foot.[17] As Pulau Ubin is 4 kilometres away from Pulau Tekong, there were speculations that the elephant could have been from the herd captured on Pulau Tekong in 1990. However, the Singapore Zoological Gardens confirmed otherwise as the elephants from the Pulau Tekong incident bore tattoos that had been given to them before their release.[18]


On 3 March 1991, two French nationals who had gone to Pulau Ubin to bird watch encountered the elephant at roughly 11.30 am. One of the French nationals sustained light scratches on his arms when he fell while fleeing from the elephant who had charged at them.[19] The elephant also damaged the right rear side of a taxi in its path. The taxi driver managed to drive off with the two French nationals, escaping from the elephant safely.[20]


In light of the two elephant encounters, the police advised all Pulau Ubin residents to stay indoors at night for their personal safety. Police officers also stationed themselves at the island’s entry points to ensure that outsiders cannot enter Pulau Ubin until after the elephant was captured.[21]


On 6 March 1991, at around 8.15 am, a villager notified the Pulau Ubin police post that he had spotted the elephant around the north-eastern part of the island.[22] The task force in charge of capturing the elephant, consisting of experts from the Johor Wildlife Department and the Singapore Zoological Gardens, found the elephant at roughly 8.55 am. One of the Johor Wildlife Department’s rangers darted the elephant with a sedative, enabling its capture. The elephant was then chained to a nearby tree.[23]


On 9 March 1991, the wild elephant was injected with a sedative and flanked by the same two trained elephants from the Pulau Tekong incident, Cek Mek and Mek Bunga.[24] The wild elephant was then led up onto the truck by the other elephants and it was subsequently loaded onto a ferry headed for Changi Jetty. The elephant was then transported across the causeway to Endau-Rompin National Park where it was released. The wild elephant was believed to have swum to Pulau Ubin from the western bank of Sungai Johor, Malaysia.[25]

References / Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. Saini, Rohaniah. “Last elephant trapped”. The Straits Times. June 9, 1990. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19900609-1.2.38.2
  2. “Elephants swim to S’pore”. The Straits Times. November 4, 2014. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes20141104-1.2.74.7.1
  3. Abdullah, Yohanna. “Early morning send off for Ubin Elephant”. The Straits Times. March 10, 1991. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19910310-1.2.21.24
  4. Saini, Rohaniah. “Last elephant trapped”. The Straits Times. June 9, 1990. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19900609-1.2.38.2
  5. Saini, Rohaniah. “Wanted: Tusk force to catch wild elephants on Tekong”. The Straits Times. May 31, 1990. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19900531-1.2.8.7
  6. Saini, Rohaniah. “Last elephant trapped”. The Straits Times. June 9, 1990. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19900609-1.2.38.2
  7. Saini, Rohaniah. “Wanted: Tusk force to catch wild elephants on Tekong”. The Straits Times. May 31, 1990. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19900531-1.2.8.7
  8. Saini, Rohaniah. “Trapped: Two of Tekong’s three elephants”. The Straits Times. June 8, 1990. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19900608-1.2.5
  9. Saini, Rohaniah. “Trapped: Two of Tekong’s three elephants”. The Straits Times. June 8, 1990. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19900608-1.2.5
  10. Saini, Rohaniah. “Jumbo update: Home sweet home.”. The Straits Times. June 18, 1990. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19900618-1.2.30.11
  11. Saini, Rohaniah. “Jumbo update: Home sweet home.”. The Straits Times. June 18, 1990. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19900618-1.2.30.11
  12. Lee, Chiu San. “Tekong suitable site for elephant preserve”. The Straits Times. June 2, 1990. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19900602-1.2.49.4
  13. Lee, Chiu San. “Tekong suitable site for elephant preserve”. The Straits Times. June 2, 1990. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19900602-1.2.49.4
  14. “Elephants must be removed for ‘own good’”. The Straits Times. June 3, 1990. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19900603-1.2.24.7
  15. “Elephants must be removed for ‘own good’”. The Straits Times. June 3, 1990. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19900603-1.2.24.7
  16. Miller, David. “Hot on the elephant’s trail… again”. The Straits Times. March 3, 1991. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19910303-1.2.21.15
  17. Miller, David. “Hot on the elephant’s trail… again”. The Straits Times. March 3, 1991. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19910303-1.2.21.15
  18. “Operation Jumbo, Part Two...”. The Straits Times. March 3, 1991. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19910303-1.2.21.20
  19. Koh, Joh Ting. “Ubin elephant goes after two Frenchmen”. The Straits Times. March 4, 1991. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19910304-1.2.30.7
  20. Koh, Joh Ting. “Ubin elephant goes after two Frenchmen”. The Straits Times. March 4, 1991. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19910304-1.2.30.7
  21. Koh, Joh Ting. “Ubin elephant goes after two Frenchmen”. The Straits Times. March 4, 1991. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19910304-1.2.30.7
  22. Miller, David. “Ubin elephant caught”. The Straits Times. March 7, 1991. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19910310-1.2.21.24
  23. Miller, David. “Ubin elephant caught”. The Straits Times. March 7, 1991. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19910310-1.2.21.24
  24. Abdullah, Yohanna. “Early morning send off for Ubin Elephant”. The Straits Times. March 10, 1991. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19910310-1.2.21.24
  25. Abdullah, Yohanna. “Early morning send off for Ubin Elephant”. The Straits Times. March 10, 1991. Accessed on 21 February 2019. Retrieved from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19910310-1.2.21.24