Remains a mystery
We do know they are less aggressive to people than elephants anywhere else, even as their habitat shrinks and they are forced into more frequent confrontations with humans over land and food.
In June and July 2005, the AREAS program and WWF-Malaysia - led by Dr. Christy Williams and Raymond Alfred - successfully attached satellite collars to five pygmy elephants in different herds in the Malaysian state of Sabah, a groundbreaking project to allow us to learn more about the elephants and their habitat.
The collaring is part of the first scientific research ever conducted on this little-understood population. It was only in 2003 that WWF and Columbia University scientists determined the Sabah population to be a likely new subspecies of Asian elephants. The preliminary data is already providing insight into the movement of these elephants and their use of the forests in Sabah, which we will share with officials in Malaysia to help influence land-use decisions.
Virtually all forests in Sabah are within a system of forest reserves, parks and wildlife reserves, divided into 27 forest management units of about 100,000 hectares each. In November 1997, the Sabah government signed 99-year leases with 10 forest management companies to manage blocks of forest averaging about 100,000 hectares each.
Much of this 1 million hectares of forest is home to elephants and rhinos. AREAS is working within this landscape to reduce conflict between the wildlife and people; to improve law enforcement and rhino protection; and ensure that the forest is managed sustainably, allowing room for both profitable logging and thriving wildlife populations.
The AREAS team is also conducting field research to learn more about the pygmy elephants, including identifying individuals based on DNA sampling; conducting studies of what plant species the elephants eat; and trying to determine if they remain confined to northeast Borneo because they require minerals found only in the soil there.
By collaring five elephants in mid-2005 from herds in different parts of Sabah and tracking them by satellite, the AREAS team will gain valuable insight into how far the elephants travel for food, what kind of forest they most prefer and what parts of the jungle are most crucial to protect.