Monday, December 26, 2005

The Pygmy Elephants of Borneo

For years there have been arguments about the small population of Asian Elephants living on the island of Borneo. These elephants were smaller than their mainland cousins and considerably more docile. Some people thought these elephants were feral animals that had come from a once domestic population. The closest other Asian elephants are on the Island of Sumatra in Indonesia. When I was in Borneo I didn't have the chance to see these creatures because their range is so limited, found only in the extreme northeast corner of the island.

Recent DNA studies have shown that this population is a distinct subspecies that has been separated from other living populations for up to 300,000 years. When the sea level was lower Borneo was part of the Asian mainland. This is evidenced in the fact that the fauna of Borneo is predominantly Asian. Across a narrow, but deep strait of water is the island of Sulawesi. Sulawesi was never part of the mainland and has a mixture of a few Asian animals like monkeys, two wild pigs and some small wild cows (Anoa) plus a contingent of birds and mammals with origins in the Australasian area.

As the sea level rose the Bornean elephants became isolated.

The World Wildlife Fund is tracking some of these elephants by GPS hoping to better understand their movements and behavior. They are working with the government of the Indonesian state of Sabah to help preserve this distinct population of elephants. It is thought that the population stands at between 500 to 2000 animals.

There are only 35,000 wild asian elephants thought to be still roaming around in 10 countries in South and Southeast Asia.

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