Pygmy elephants


Bornean Pygmy elephant (<i>Elephas maximus borneensis</i>) calf. / ©: WWF / Cede PRUDENTE
Bornean Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) calf.
Pygmy elephants are found only on the northeast tip of the island of Borneo, mostly in the Malaysian state of Sabah.
A small group, perhaps 25 to 30 elephants, live in the Indonesian part of Borneo to the south as well. The region's climate favours dense tropical vegetation and biodiversity unrivaled by most of the world's forests. Most of Sabah's forests are evergreen rain forests and local vegetation includes bamboo, camphor, ebony, sandalwood, teak, palm and mangrove forests.

Borneo pygmy elephants are smaller than other Asian elephants, with larger ears, rounder bellies and longer tails. They also are less aggressive than other elephants, leading to the theory held by many for years that they were tamer than other elephants because they were simply from a domesticated herd gone feral.

Once believed to be remnants of a domesticated herd given to the Sultan of Sulu in the 17th century, pygmy elephants were determined by WWF and Columbia University researchers in 2003 to be genetically different from other Asian elephants - and are likely to be declared a new subspecies.

This makes them a high conservation priority and WWF’s Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy programme (AREAS) has chosen this region as a priority landscape to work in. Not only is it an important habitat for both elephants and Sumatran rhinos, but also orangutans, gibbons and many other species.

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