WARNING: Graphic photos below.
Sabah lost nearly 900,000 hectares of forest from 2001 to 2013, habitat loss upping human-elephant conflicts
Best estimates put the number of pygmy elephants in Malaysian Borneo at approximately 2,200, but no one can be sure how many have lost their lives in recent years as palm plantations encroach further and further into the rainforest. What is clear is that if the loss of their forest habitat continues to drive conflicts with humans at the rate it is now, Borneo elephants’ long-term survival may be in jeopardy.
There have been several high-profile cases, like the 14 elephants that were poisoned last year in Sabah Province, where the majority of Borneo elephants live and where deforestation has claimed huge amounts of forest over the past half-century. More recently, Sabah was the scene of a grisly shooting death of yet another elephant.
Borneo elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) are also known as Borneo pygmy elephants, but are not significantly smaller than other Asian elephants. Photo by Cede Prudente, WWF Malaysia.
Borneo elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) are listed by the IUCN as Endangered, living almost entirely in Sabah (approximately 80 also live in northern Kalimantan). A subspecies of the Asian elephant, Borneo elephants – also called Borneo pygmy elephants – are similar in size to their counterparts in peninsular Malaysia, and are threatened primarily by habitat loss.
Malaysia tops Indonesia, Brazil, and Nigeria as the country with the world’s highest rate of deforestation. According to Global Forest Watch, the country lost more than 500,000 hectares of tree cover in 2012 alone. Sabah, the smaller of Malaysia’s two Bornean states, lost nearly 900,000 hectares between 2001 and 2013 – or about 15 percent of its tree cover. While some of this loss can be attributed to the harvesting of plantations, areas of intact forest have also been reduced. Constriction of habitat driven in large part by palm oil expansion is squeezing elephants out of forests and into areas inhabited by humans, leading to increasing rates of human-elephant conflicts and subsequent elephant killings.
There has been more than one case of baby elephants being found alone, orphaned, starving, and dehydrated. It is highly unusual for a mother elephant to abandon her children, so there’s a good chance the mothers were killed and their bodies never discovered. In fact, it’s likely that there are far more elephant deaths than we ever hear about.
“It would be hard for anyone to know how many died,” Cynthia Ong, executive director of LEAP (which stands for Lands Empowerment Animals People) told mongabay.com. “We know that some died. Maybe even many died. Some perhaps got shot and got buried and no one ever knew.”