Borneo Elephant

Borneo Elephant

Pygmy elephant, Borneo pygmy elephant, Borneo elephant, Borneo pygmy elephant


4 languages
Elephas maximus borneensis
Population size
Life Span
55-70 yrs
Top speed
43 km/h
3-5 t
2-3 m

The Borneo elephant, also called the Borneo pygmy elephant, is a subspecies of Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) that 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, the Asian elephant has been listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations, estimated to be 60–75 years. It is pre-eminently threatened by loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitat.

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The Sultan of Sulu was thought to have 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 more likely derived from Sundaic stock and are indigenous to Borneo, rather than having been introduced by humans. The genetic divergence of Borneo elephants warrants their recognition as a separate evolutionarily significant unit.

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The smallest elephant in Asia, the Borneo, or otherwise known as Pygmy, elephant is a rather charming and adorable creature. This cute animal has a baby-like face, unusually large ears, plump belly and an extremely long tail, which occasionally drag on the ground while the animal walks. Compared to other Asian elephants, Borneo elephant is a more gentle-natured animal. In the past, Pygmy elephants were considered descendants of a domesticated elephant herd, which was given to the Sultan of Sulu in the 17th century. According to WWF, Borneo elephants genetically differ from other Asian elephants. This statement is supported by DNA evidence, which discovered that the species was isolated from their relatives on mainland Asia and Sumatra around 300,000 years ago. As a result, Borneo elephants became smaller, developing larger ears, longer tails and straighter tusks in course of time.




Borneo elephant occurs on the Borneo Island, more specifically, in Sabah (Malaysia) and in Kalimantan (Indonesia). Population in Kalimantan is located in the eastern part of the region, limited to tiny area upper Sembakung River. The preferred habitat of Borneo elephant is lowland rainforests and valleys.

Borneo Elephant habitat map

Climate zones

Borneo Elephant habitat map
Borneo Elephant
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Habits and Lifestyle

Borneo elephants are sociable animals that live in matriarchal hierarchy. They form small groups of 8 individuals on average, which are dominated by females. However, on riverbanks and other open feeding areas, these animals can be seen in larger groups. Groups of this species are family units, typically consisting of mothers, daughters, sisters and immature males (occasionally - an adult male). Mature males tend to live solitarily or form temporary bull herds. Family units occasionally gather together. This association is highly beneficial for them, helping keep genetic diversity, which, in turn, is vital for their further evolution and survival. These active elephants are known to wander throughout their habitat, travelling up to 25 - 30 miles a day. Borneo elephants are migratory animals. Seasonal migration helps the elephants keep themselves in good physical shape. In addition, when travelling, Borneo elephants often cross rivers and prove themselves to be excellent swimmers.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

As forest herbivore, this animal primarily consumes grasses, fruits, palms and banana plants, complementing its diet with minerals that are taken from salt licks.

Mating Habits

19-22 months
1 calf
3-4 years

Little is known about the mating and reproductive behaviors of Borneo elephants. A single calf is produced after a gestation period of 19 – 22 months. The baby feeds upon maternal milk for 3 – 4 years, reaching sexual maturity by 10 years old.


Population threats

Borneo elephants currently suffer from fragmentation, degradation and loss of their habitat as a result of growing human population, which leads to disruption of their migration routes, depletion of food sources as well as destruction of their natural environment. Elephants frequently eat or trample crops, thus coming into serious conflicts with humans. This causes a high number of mortality not only in animals, but also in humans: as a result, hundreds of people and elephants are killed every year.

Population number

According to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) recourse, the total Borneo elephant population is approximately 1,500 individuals. Overall, the Asian elephant is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Borneo elephants are more gentle-natured than other elephants.
  • The highly developed brain of these intelligent animals is the largest among all terrestrial mammals: it's 3 - 4 times bigger than human brain, but is noticeably smaller as a proportion of their body weight.
  • The pulse rate of this animal is 27, which is extremely slow when compared to a canary, which has a pulse rate of 1000.
  • In spite of their poor vision, elephants possess a keen sense of smell.
  • In order to smell better, these animals are known to wave their trunks from side to side as well as up in the air.
  • Elephant trunk is a 'multifunctional tool'. Thus, the animal uses its trunk to learn the size, shape and temperature of an object. The trunk also helps lift food as well as suck up water and then pour it into its mouth to drink.
  • Elephants are able to display emotions such as laugh and cry. Moreover, they can play and have a highly-developed memory.
  • Elephants are able to 'listen' through their feet: the sub-sonic rumblings, produced by elephants, cause vibrations in the ground and are perceived by other elephants. In order to 'listen' to these vibrations, they position their feet and put their trunks on the ground.
  • These sensitive and careful animals are able to feel grief and compassion. They demonstrate self-awareness, altruism and playful behavior. When a calf complains, the whole family gathers around to show concern and caress the baby.
  • Ears of these animals consist of a complex system of blood vessels, controlling their body temperature. When it gets hot, elephants are able to cool off due to blood, circulating through their ears.


1. Borneo Elephant Wikipedia article -
2. Borneo Elephant on The IUCN Red List site -

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