Many visitors to eastern Africa see massive elephants on Kenya and Tanzania safaris, but those seeking nature travel, including guests on one of International Expeditions’ Borneo tours, have an opportunity to enjoy an even more unique sighting.
Pygmy elephants, a type of Asian elephant, are genetically distinct from other Asian elephants, according to a 2003 study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Columbia University. They are therefore a subspecies, but scientists are still trying to determine whether they are endemic to Borneo.
Some believe that the animal originated from a herd of elephants from the island of Java, where that variety of elephant is now extinct. They hypothesize that the herd was abandoned by the Sultan of Sulu in the 17th century.
Whatever their heritage, pygmy elephants are about three feet smaller than their African cousins, measuring only about eight feet high. They also have rounder faces, longer ears and longer tails.
The species is unlike that of any elephant elsewhere on the planet. The 1,600 individuals left in the wild are threatened by habitat loss and conflict with humans.
Travelers are most likely to see signs of the pygmy elephants at Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, off the coast of the Kinabatangan River. That is where Asian elephants are most concentrated on the island. In fact, one recent group of IE travelers was lucky enough to spot a herd of pygmy elephants!
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