Borneo's elephants are an alien species
April 18, 2008
Writing in the current issue of the Sarawak Museum Journal, authors led by the Earl of Cranbrook, the current curator of the Sarawak Museum, show there is no archaeological evidence of a long-term elephant presence on Borneo. The research supports a local story that elephants were brought to Borneo from Java centuries ago by the Sultan of Sulu (in the present-day Philippines).
"Elephants were shipped from place to place across Asia many hundreds of years ago, usually as gifts between rulers," Mr Shim Phyau Soon, a retired Malaysian forester credited with inspiring the research, was quoted as saying by WWF, an environmental group working to conserve key elephant habitat on the island. "It's exciting to consider that the forest-dwelling Borneo elephants may be the last vestiges of a subspecies that went extinct on its native Java Island, in Indonesia, centuries ago."
Photo © WWF / Cede PRUDENTE
"Just one fertile female and one fertile male elephant, if left undisturbed in enough good habitat, could in theory end up as a population of 2,000 elephants within less than 300 years," said Junaidi Payne, a researcher with WWF and one of the paper's co-authors. "And that may be what happened in practice here."
"If they came from Java, this fascinating story demonstrates the value of efforts to save even small populations of certain species, often thought to be doomed," said Dr Christy Williams, coordinator of WWF's Asian elephant and rhino program. "It gives us the courage to propose such undertakings with the small remaining populations of critically endangered Sumatran rhinos and Javan rhinos, by translocating a few to better habitats to increase their numbers. It has worked for Africa's southern white rhinos and Indian rhinos, and now we have seen it may have worked for the Javan elephant, too."
WWF is helping protect Sumatran rhinos, Javan rhinos, orangutans, and other threatened species by assisting three Borneo governments (Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei) to conserve the "Heart of Borneo" — a tract of 191,402 sq km of forest — through a network of protected areas and sustainably managed forests.
ORIGIN OF THE ELEPHANTS ELEPHAS MAXIMUS L. OF BORNEO by Earl of Cranbrook, J. Payne and Charles M.U. Leh.