Borneo Pygmy Elephants in the wet

A young female enjoying a bath in the rain at Kinabatangan River

Due to their small size, gentle nature and relatively large ears, they have been dubbed “pygmy” elephants. Less than 1,500 (Elephas maximus borneensis) are found, mostly in the Malaysian state of Sabah. This makes Sabah home to the world’s smallest known and most rare sub-species of elephants in the world.

I have now visited Kinabatangan River almost a dozen times over the past 10 years, and have been fortunate to observe the Pygmy Elephants at close range 4 times.  Each time you feel humbled by these wonderful creatures facing a difficult future.

Water is good!

The single most important cause of the decline of the Asian elephant has been the loss of its habitat. Large blocks of forests required by elephants in Sabah have been fragmented by conversion of extensive natural forests, formerly the Borneo Pygmy’s main habitat, to commercial palm oil plantations.

A male individual foraging in a palm oil plantation at night.  Electrical wire fencing and noise-making ‘cannons’ are not always effective.

Bornean Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis)

Bornean Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis)

A week old pygmy elephant is being guided  carefully through the water.

One calf is born at a time and female Asian elephants have about 7 calves in a lifetime. They give birth about every 4 – 6 years, although this period may be extended when conditions are unfavourable for survival, such as during drought. The gestation period is between 19-22  Calves suckle for 3 – 4 years.

When crossing waterway the pygmy elephants are almost completely submerged!

This was part of a herd of 20+ Borneo Pygmy Elephants, a magic sight! Below you can see 2 young male elephants bonding while the female matriarch is on the outlook!

Male bonding in the rain, while the female matriarch looks on!

Male bonding in the rain, while the female matriarch looks on!



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