10 Borneo Elephant Facts



Elephants are marvelous creatures that may look intimidating due to their enormous size, but they often don’t attack unprovoked. There are three main species of elephants, which are further divided into subspecies. Amongst these subspecies, the Borneo elephant is arguably the cutest. 

The Borneo elephant is a subspecies of the Asian elephant. It’s better known as the pygmy elephant due to its smaller size. They are primarily found in Indonesia and Malaysia and are the friendliest elephant of all species. They share numerous similarities with other Asian elephants.

This article focuses solely on the Borneo elephant. This article will take you through everything from their habitat to their eating habits and fascinating origin theories.

Herd of Borneo pygmy elephants walking along the water

1. The Borneo Elephants Reside in Forests

The Borneo Pygmy Elephant is found primarily in northeastern Borneo in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Although Borneo is quite segregated from the rest of Asia, this island has a diverse population of both animals and plants. It’s the largest island in Asia-Pacific. 

Within Borneo, Sabah – a state in Malaysia, has the highest population of Borneo elephants.

If you visit Sabah, you are almost guaranteed to spot one of these beauties in the forest as they roam the woods and grasslands for about 12-18 hours each day. 

2. Their Origin Is Still Under Research

Although the exact origin story of the Borneo elephant is still a mystery, there are many exciting theories. 

One theory suggests that the Sultan of Sulu introduced a variety of small captive elephants in the Borneo province during the 1700s.

He then released these elephants into the jungle, where they remained distanced from other elephants for a while. As a result, over the years, their numbers multiplied, and they evolved into separate subspecies. 

However, scientists carefully analyzed these elephants’ DNA, believing that the Borneo elephant is, in fact, indigenous to the Borneo province and came from the Sundaic stock.

Therefore, although interesting, the scientists’ findings negate the Sultan Sulu theory. 

Borneo pygmy elephant at Sabah Rainforest

3. They’re the Tiniest Elephant Species

The Borneo Elephant is the smallest elephant species, making it widely known as the Borneo pygmy elephant.

The height of a male Borneo elephant ranges from 1.7-2.6 meters, and that of its female counterpart ranges from 1.5-2.2 meters.

Although not a huge jump, these height ranges are smaller than that of the average Asian elephant.

Borneo elephants weigh about 4-6 tonnes on average. Even a newborn Borneo elephant weighs about 200 pounds, about the same as a full-grown human male. 

4. They Have Larger Ears and Straighter Tusks  

The distinguishing feature of Borneo elephants is their comparatively larger ears. Although the Borneo pygmy elephant is more miniature, its ears are big. 

Remember the famous Disney character, Dumbo, and its huge ears? Well, Dumbo’s character was inspired by the Borneo elephant.

Like all Asian elephants, female Borneo elephants don’t have tusks, and only some males have tusks. However, compared to other Asian elephants, Borneo elephant tusks are shorter and straight. 

Borneo pygmy elephant walking

5. Their Trunks Are “Single Finger”

Borneo elephants have a single-finger trunk which they use to pick up food, leaves, grass, and other plants. 

Like other elephants, these trunks are incredibly muscular and strong and can lift up to 700 pounds.

6. The Borneo Elephant Lives as Long as Humans

Borneo elephants have an average lifespan of 55-70 years which is considerably greater than other Asian elephants. 

This lifespan of Borneo elephants is similar to that of African Bush and Forest elephants.

7. They’re Surprisingly Fast Runners

Although a subspecies of the Asian elephant, Borneo elephants can run surprisingly fast. A Borneo elephant can run at speeds up to 27 mph. 

Considering their huge weight and build, these running speeds are impressive and are often why they tend to save themselves from human threats. 

8. This Species Is Calmer and Friendlier Than Others

Although elephants aren’t considered dangerous animals, they can attack if provoked. 

The Borneo elephant is regarded as the friendliest elephant species. Although found in the wild, it is much easier to domesticate a Borneo elephant. 

Their peaceful nature makes scientists believe that they come from a line of a domestic herd of elephants. 

9. There’s Only One Borneo Elephant in the USA

Some 8000 miles away from its original habitat, Oregon is home to the only Borneo elephant found in the USA.

This is a female Borneo elephant named Chendra, who’s been living in Oregon zoo for over two decades. 

Chendra belonged to Sabah, Malaysia, and was found injured, weak, and hungry on a palm oil plantation.

As she was too weak to survive in the wild, the authorities relocated Chendra to Oregon zoo, where she now lives in the elephant section alongside other Asian elephants.

10. The Borneo Elephant Population Is Declining

Since the Borneo Elephant is only found in a concise part of Asia, its population was comparatively smaller. However, this already low population has decreased by 60% in the last 40 years. 

Currently, there are less than 1500 Borneo Elephants left in the wild. WWF has therefore declared the Borneo elephant to be an endangered species. 

The greatest threat to the declining Borneo elephant population is deforestation and habitat loss. Since 1975, over 30% of Borneo’s rainforest has been cut down to make space for infrastructure and civilization. 

This leads to the elephants being displaced and eventually killed when eating or trampling the villagers’ crops. 

To conserve the Borneo elephant population, WWF works closely with the locals to create a sustainable living environment for the villagers and the elephants. 

Borneo pygmy elephant spraying itself with water

Final Thoughts On Borneo Elephants

Even though Borneo elephants are a subspecies of the Asian elephant, their different ears and tusks make them look much more diverse. 

Although scientists have researched various aspects of the Borneo elephant, there is still much room for further research. 

Given their declining population, authorities need to put stricter measures in place to ensure the safety and well-being of these elephants. 


What Do Borneo Elephants Eat?

Borneo elephants are herbivores. They mostly eat grass and fruits found within the Borneo rainforest. 

Where Do Borneo Elephants Live? 

Borneo elephants live in Sabah, Malaysia.

Why Are Borneo Pygmy Elephants Endangered?

The Borneo pygmy elephant is endangered due to the loss of its natural habitat. The uncontrolled deforestation and integration of civilization into the Borneo rainforest have extensively interfered with the freedom and lifestyle of Borneo elephants.

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