Washington, Apr 19 (UNI) The Borneo pygmy elephant could be the last survivors of the Javan elephant race accidentally saved from extinction by the Sultan of Sulu centuries ago, a new study suggests.
The origins of the pygmy elephants, found in a range extending from the north-east of the island in Java into the heart of Borneo, have long been shrouded in mystery. Their looks and behaviour differ from other Asian elephants and scientists have questioned why they never dispersed to other parts of the island.
"Elephants were shipped from place to place across Asia many hundreds of years ago, usually as gifts between rulers," said 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 sub-species 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 1,200 km 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.
Scientists solved part of the mystery in 2003, when DNA testing by Columbia University and WWF ruled out the possibility that the Borneo elephants were from Sumatra or mainland Asia, where the other Asian sub-species are found, leaving either Borneo or Java as the most probable source.
"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 WWF, one of the paper's co-authors.
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