Our Bornean elephants are endangered

KOA KINABALU, June 29: The Bornean elephant or Elephas maximus borneensis has been classified as ‘endangered’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List due to its small and declining population.

World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) elephant expert Dr Cheryl Cheah said the elephant species native to the island of Borneo, especially Sabah, runs a very high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.

“Their classification as ‘endangered’ underscores the urgency of collaborative conservation actions such as the management of human-elephant conflict and the prevention of further habitat loss and fragmentation, both of which are crucial for safeguarding their future survival,” she said in a statement issued by WWF-Malaysia on Friday.

Cheah said as an evolutionarily significant species, Bornean elephants are morphologically and genetically distinct from mainland Asian elephants, rendering them unique to the island of Borneo and part of its natural heritage.

The Bornean elephant is also known as the Borneo pygmy elephant, a subspecies of Asian elephant or Elephas maximus, and is distinguished by their small size, with males growing to some 2.5 metres in height.

The Asian elephant was declared as endangered under the IUCN Red List in an assessment on Sept 18, 2019 and published in 2020 while the subspecies Bornean elephant was declared as endangered under the IUCN Red List in an assessment on Nov 17 last year and published this year.

Meanwhile, the IUCN stated that there are 1,000 individuals Bornean elephants in total, with about 400 being breeding adults.

“Around 60 per cent of the Bornean elephants’ forest habitat has been lost in the last 40 years, primarily due to logging and the planting of commercial oil palm. Both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments have action plans for the conservation of Borneo’s elephants, but they face many challenges.

“The IUCN Red List now provides international recognition of Borneo’s elephants as a unique and endangered subspecies, providing a strong impetus for their conservation,” the IUCN said in a statement.

It is essential to protect and expand their forest habitats, support local communities in minimising conflict with elephants, and enforce anti-poaching measures to ensure the elephants’ future, it added.