Monday, 30 July 2018

PYGMY: The Exotic Elephant from Borneo

Pygmy Elephant at the Lok Kawi Zoo

Pygmy can be an adjective used in names of plants and animals that are much smaller than more typical kinds. In Borneo, you could find pygmy rhinos, pygmy pythons and pygmy elephants. Sadly, pygmy rhinos had gone extinct in 2017 and the other pygmies are also facing extinction; if no efforts are made to protect them. 

I used to think; in order to see elephants in the wild we have to go to either Africa or India. It never crossed my mind that this magnificent creature is roaming in our own backyard in Borneo! Actually elephants can be found not only in Africa or India, but also in most parts of Southeast Asia. In India and Thailand, elephants are tamed so that they could be used as a transporter of people and cargos. In ancient time, they played the role as armored tanks in battle. The most famous story was elephants used by the Carthaginian against the Roman in the Punic War. 

Our Pygmy Elephant also known as Borneo Elephant is a subspecies of the Asian Elephant. Presently, it is confined to the northern parts of Borneo; in the east coast of North Borneo (Sabah) as well as northeast Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Wild elephants in Borneo seem to roam only within these areas despite having access to suitable habitat elsewhere. Some researchers say that Borneo Elephant is endemic to this island and therefore unique. Others said it was an introduced species brought in by the Sultan of Sulu in the 18th century and later released into the wilderness of Borneo. But DNA testing made confirmed this animal indeed had been in Borneo for a very long time but this issue is still debatable.

But one fact remains true; the population of wild elephants in Borneo is rapidly diminishing. There are only 2000 Pygmy elephants left in the wild and captivity. In North Borneo, there were unfortunate series of elephant deaths happening within the last few years. In 2013, there were 14 elephants that died after being poison. In early 2018, 6 elephants died due to an unknown disease and later a juvenile elephant was found death after being shot at close range. 

Expanding human population is creating habitat loss for these elephants as the human disrupt their migration routes and deplete their food sources. Thus these elephants had no choice but to encroach into human settlements in search of food; creating human-elephant conflicts. The major culprits for the elephant misery are the logging activities as well as the land clearing for palm oil plantations. 

The government of North Borneo says they want to promote tourism because of the unique and endemic diversities of Borneo rainforest that offers a lot of interesting sights for tourists and visitors. Yet they destroy these sceneries by giving a free hand to logging and plantation companies to rape the environment! I implore to the government to stop the expansion of logging and plantation activities; once and for all. The remaining forests should be protected at all cost. The government must also rehabilitate wide swath of lands that had been destroyed due to these activities and replaced them through reforestation exercises using local species of plants. Only then can we hope to see the return of wild animals to our forest and reverse the possibility of their extinction. 

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