Found only in eastern Sabah, the Borneo Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) is another reason for wildlife enthusiasts to visit Borneo. The elephants were previously thought to be Asian elephants given to the Sultan of Brunei (or Sultan of Sulu according to some) by the king of Thailand, who released it to roam wild in Sabah. However, DNA findings in 2003 confirmed that the Borneo version is distinct from the Asian Elephant, having separated around 300,000 years ago.
The Borneo Pygmy Elephant is so-named because it is smaller than the Asian Elephant and African Elephant, making it the smallest elephant in the world. An adult male stands at only 2.5m, compared to the Asian Elephant which is 3m tall. It has comparatively larger ears, longer tails that reach to the ground, and straighter tusks. It is also less aggresive than its larger cousin.
There are now less than 1500 elephants in the wild in Sabah. Good places for elephant-spotting are at Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Danum Valley and Kinabatangan River. Sightings are not guaranteed. If you don’t mind seeing the elephants in an enclosed environment, the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park has a few of these elephants. Of special interest are the 3 baby elephants born in the zoo. One has been named Sumandak after a competition held by the zoo. The elephants love to play in water and it is a joy to see them submerged looking for food that has fallen into the pond only to reappear with a sugar cane in its mouth.