Elephant Information

Bornean Elephant At Sepilok

The Bornean pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) is one of the four recognised Asian elephant subspecies. They are genetically different to all other Asian elephants and these differences are shown both physically and in their behaviour. They are smaller than other Asian elephants, only growing up to 2.5 meters high rather than the 3.5 meter heights of their larger cousins. They also appear more rotund and have larger ears, a longer tail and shorter, straighter tusks. Their babyish appearances make them very endearing and they are also gentler and less aggressive than other Asian elephants.

Population Estimate

In 2010 there were only 2,030 recorded as living in the wild and this number is now thought to be much lower with the current population believed to be only around 1,500 individuals. The Bornean elephant is only found in forested areas in the south, centre and east of the state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. There are probably fewer left in the wild than the Sumatran elephant, which was classed as ‘critically endangered’ in 2013.

Family Groups

Bornean Pygmy elephants live in matriarchal groups of between 8 to 12 individuals. The family group will consist of an older matriarch, her daughters and their calves. The males will stay with their mother and her herd until they reach adolescence at around 8 years old. Adult males live mainly independently, although they will have some interaction with their family group, and sometimes come together with other bulls. These elephants can live for up to sixty years in the wild.

Female elephants can have up to seven calves in a lifetime. They will only have one calf at a time and the gestation period is almost 2 years long! They give birth approximately every 4 - 6 years, although this period may be prolonged if conditions are not appropriate for calves such as during times of drought. An elephant calf will suckle from their mother until reaching the age of 3 to 5 years.

Threats to their survival

The Bornean Elephant is the largest of Borneo’s mammals, however, they move freely and carefully through the forest without causing much damage to the trees and vegetation. They have an herbivorous diet, eating palms, grasses and fruit. In order to survive elephants need a large area of natural habitat as individuals can travel up to 300 sq km annually. However, due to human population growth and the demand for agricultural land the elephants’ habitat is becoming ever smaller.

The main threats to Bornean elephant populations in Sabah include habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, low genetic diversity and illegal killing. Poor public awareness of their endangered status is also a major factor and many are getting caught in snares on plantations.

Bornean elephants receive the highest level of government protection under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment of “totally protected species” therefore any person caught killing or hunting an elephant will receive a prison sentence of up to 5 years, however these rare elephants are still being killed at an alarming rate.