The origins of the pygmy elephants, found only on the northeast tip of the island in part of the Heart of Borneo, have long been shrouded in mystery. Their looks and behavior differ from other Asian elephants and scientists have questioned why they never dispersed to other parts of the island.
But today’s paper, published in the peer-reviewed Sarawak Museum Journal, supports a long-held local belief that the elephants were brought to Borneo centuries ago by the Sultan of Sulu, now in the Philippines, and later abandoned in the jungle. The Sulu elephants, in turn, are thought to have originated in Java, an Indonesian island that is across the Javan Sea from Borneo.
“Just one fertile female and one fertile male elephant, if left undisturbed in enough good habitat, could in theory end up as a population of 2,000 elephants within less than 300 years,” said Junaidi Payne of World Wildlife Fund, one of the paper’s co-authors. “And that may be what happened in practice here.”
Javan elephants became extinct sometime in the period after Europeans arrived in Southeast Asia. Elephants on Sulu, never considered native to the island, were hunted out in the 1800s.
“Elephants were shipped from place to place across Asia many hundreds of years ago, usually as gifts between rulers,” said Mr. Shim Phyau Soon, a retired Malaysian forester whose ideas on the origins of the elephants partly inspired the current research. “It’s exciting to consider that the forest-dwelling Borneo elephants may be the last vestiges of a subspecies that went extinct on its native Java Island, in Indonesia, centuries ago.”
If the Borneo pygmy elephants are in fact elephants from Java, an island more than 800 miles south of their current range, it could be the first known elephant translocation in history that has survived to modern times, providing scientists with critical data from a centuries-long experiment. Their possible origins in Java make them even more a conservation priority.
Scientists solved part of the mystery in 2003, when DNA testing by Columbia University and WWF found that the Borneo elephants were genetically distinct from Sumatran or mainland Asian elephants, leaving either Borneo or –under this new theory– Java as the most probable source.
The new paper, “Origins of the Elephants Elephas Maximus L. of Borneo,” shows that there is no archaeological evidence of a long-term elephant presence on Borneo, thus making Java the possible source.
There are perhaps just 1,000 of the elephants in the wild, mostly in the Malaysian state of Sabah. WWF has captured and placed satellite collars on 11 elephants since 2005 to track them since they had never been studied before. The study has shown they prefer the same lowland habitat that is being increasingly cleared for timber, rubber and palm oil plantations.
By satellite tracking of some of these elephants, WWF unknowingly may have been investigating the history of a very old experiment: the introduction of elephants from one island, where they eventually went extinct, to another, where they are still alive, said Michael Stuewe, elephant biologist for World Wildlife Fund.
“Unraveling the secrets of this experiment would be invaluable for conservation as it would guide our efforts with many species that are facing extinction today,” Stuewe said. “I can only hope that the fierce competition Borneo’s elephants face from commercial plantation industries for the forests they call their home does not interfere with their very survival.”
For more than 45 years, WWF has been protecting the future of nature. The largest multinational conservation organization in the world, WWF works in 100 countries and is supported by 1.2 million members in the United States and close to 5 million globally. WWF's unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level, from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature.
Bioinvasion on the rise
15.02.2017 | Universität Konstanz
Litter Levels in the Depths of the Arctic are On the Rise
10.02.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport
Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...
The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.
The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...
Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...
Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".
Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...
13.02.2017 | Event News
10.02.2017 | Event News
09.02.2017 | Event News
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News