Borneo pygmy elephants

Borneo pygmy elephants at risk of inbreeding

This is the main conclusion of a paper published online in the scientific journal Biological Conservation by a team of scientists from Danau Girang Field Centre in Sabah (DGFC), Cardiff University (UK), the NGO Hutan (Sabah), Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (Portugal), the Institute for Systems Genomics (USA), the CNRS (France), and Sabah Wildlife Department. Over the years, the clearing of land for development and the opening up of plantations have left many forests fragmented, making it difficult for wildlife to roam without coming in conflict with humans. The study said inbreeding could occur in the future among the elephants in forested areas of Lower Kinabatangan, Upper Kinabatangan and Central Sabah if these areas are not connected.

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“The study basically tells us that there is a need for the elephants in the various areas to meet and mate to create a bigger gene pool for its very survival in Sabah,’’ DGFC director Dr Benoit Goosens said. He said the study found that the Bornean elephants showed a low degree of genetic differentiation among its populations. “It is now very important to secure forest connectivity between these distinct populations to avoid further fragmentation within the population if we want to conserve the species,” he said. The study was funded by the Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Elephant Family, Houston Zoo, Columbus Zoo and the Portuguese Science Foundation. Dr Goosens, the lead author of the study said their teams spent several months collecting dung samples from all elephant ranges in Sabah and then analysing their DNA to provide an insight into their genetic diversity and determine the degree of population fragmentation and isolation of the existing herds. “It was alarming to detect reduced gene flow levels among elephant populations in Sabah, especially between ranges such as the Kinabatangan, Tabin and Central Sabah (Malua, Ulu Segama, Kalabakan, Kuamut, Gunung Rara Forest Reserves).”
He said that the recent news of a potential bridge to be built over the Kinabatangan river in Sukau and further road development within the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, could jeopardise the long-term survival of the elephant population in the region and subsequently in the state. Hutan’s scientific director Dr Marc Ancrenaz said there was a need for a long term solution by securing elephant “highways”, or forest corridors that the animals can use to move across forests as the current situation is seeing a lot of human-elephant conflict.

The Borneo elephant, also called the Borneo pygmy elephant, inhabits northeastern Borneo, in Indonesia and Malaysia. Its origin remains the subject of debate. A definitive subspecific classification as Elephas maximus borneensis awaits a detailed range-wide morphometric and genetic study. Since 1986, Elephas maximus has been listed as endangered by IUCN as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations, estimated to be 60–75 years. The species is pre-eminently threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation.
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The Sultan of Sulu introduced captive elephants to Borneo in the 18th century, which were released into the jungle. Comparison of the Borneo elephant population to putative source populations in DNA analysis indicates that the Borneo elephants are derived from Sundaic stock and indigenous to Borneo. The genetic divergence of Borneo elephants warrants their recognition as a separate evolutionarily significant unit.
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Bornean elephants on rampage

Eight wild elephants have been making lives of the villagers at Malaysian Kampung Chepor a nightmare for the past two weeks. The villagers, mostly rubber tappers, have not had a good night’s sleep as they live in fear of the next attack. The wild elephants are said to have trampled on precious crops and the residents fear for their safety. In the most recent incident, last night a herd of elephants made their way into the village and destroyed crops as well as trampled on dozens of banana trees. Tarmizi Ghazali, the village’s headman said the herd came after dusk destroying the crops and making loud noises, which sent residents scurrying away.

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