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Borneo’s Pygmy Elephants

Updated: Sep 27

Borneo Pygmy Elephant
Borneo Pygmy Elephant. Photo Credit: Unsplash/Rob Hampson

Where is Borneo?

Borneo is the world's third-largest island after Greenland and New Guinea. It is the largest island in Asia and is part of the Indonesian archipelago. Borneo, situated to the North of Australia, is surrounded by the Java Sea to its South, the Celebes Sea to the East, and the South China Sea to the North. It has an area of 288,869 square miles (748,168 square kilometers). The island is divided among three countries: Indonesia (73%), Malaysia (26%), and Brunei (1%).

Map of the island, Borneo
Map of the island, Borneo. Photo Credit:

Super, Unique Wildlife of Borneo

This island consists of rainforests that harbor some of the most unique creatures on Earth. Orangutans, sun bears, proboscis monkeys, clouded leopards, and the unique pygmy elephants are a few examples. The island is famous for 15,000 plants with many more yet to be discovered. There are many species of herbivorous animals, birds, and reptiles as well.

The Borneo Pygmy Elephants

In the 1900s, there were about 10 million wild elephants worldwide. But their numbers decreased rapidly over the past century. Today, there are about 415,000 African elephants and around 40,000-100,000 Asian elephants with most of them found in India. Altogether, there are approximately 455,000 to 515,000 elephants extant worldwide. This is not counting the elephants found in parks, zoos, and in private ranches across the globe.

In general, African elephants are larger than the Asian elephants. This is mainly because Africa is a huge continent with plenty of space and food resources. In general, the animals there, such as the African crocodiles and lions, tend to be larger than similar animals found in other places like Asia.

Borneo is a small island, and therefore, the Borneo elephants are smaller on average than those found in, for example, India. An anomaly is the Sri Lankan elephants that reside on another small island, Sri Lanka. These elephants are of the same size as those found in India! How can that be? Well, a long time ago, this island was the Southern tip of India. During the Miocene epoch, about 25-5 million years ago, the tip broke off from mainland India carrying with it many animals, birds, and reptiles from India. It is possible though that these elephants will shrink in size gradually over next hundreds of thousands of years.

There are about 1,500 Borneo’s pygmy elephants left in the wild. They are endangered. Once thought to be introduced by humans to the island, these elephants are actually derived from Sudanic stock and are indigenous to Borneo!

Borneo elephants are labeled “pygmy” meaning “small” because it was thought that they were much smaller than their other Asian cousins, like the Indian elephant.

Borneo pygmy female elephants with calf
Borneo pygmy female elephants with calf. Photo Credit:

What are the threats to the Borneo Elephants?

The same threats that affect Asian elephants today, also affect the Borneo elephants. Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation driven by an expanding human population, leads to increasing conflicts between humans and elephants. For example, the elephants are driven to raid human crop because their own habitat is being destroyed but are killed in the process. Expanding human development also disrupts the elephants’ migration routes and depletes their food sources.

While the wildlife authorities in Borneo are doing their best to combat these problems, the number of Borneo elephants is unfortunately decreasing gradually.

Did You Know?

An archipelago is an area that contains a chain or group of islands scattered in lakes, rivers, or the ocean.


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