Borneo Pygmy Elephant


  • Status
  • Population
    Approximately 1,500
  • Scientific Name
    Elephas maximus borneensis
  • Height
    8.2 - 9.8 feet
  • Habitats

The smallest in size of Asian elephant subspecies, the pygmy elephants of Borneo are baby-faced with oversized ears, plump bellies and tails so long they sometimes drag on the ground as they walk. They are also more gentle-natured than their Asian elephant counterparts.

Once believed to be remnants of a domesticated herd given to the Sultan of Sulu in the 17th century, pygmy elephants were determined by WWF to be genetically different from other Asian elephants. DNA evidence proved these elephants were isolated about 300,000 years ago from their cousins on mainland Asia and Sumatra. Over time, they became smaller with relatively larger ears, longer tails and straighter tusks. Today, the pygmy elephants of Borneo are the smallest elephants in Asia.

Two years after China bans elephant ivory trade, demand for elephant ivory is down

Two years ago this month, China took the monumental step of banning elephant ivory trade within the country. Dec. 31, 2017 was the last day it was legal to buy or sell ivory there.

African elephant.

Why They Matter

  • Borneo’s elephants are a high conservation priority, yet they remain the least-understood elephants in the world.

  • Borneo is a priority landscapes for WWF’s work. The tropical rainforests of Borneo are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth—home to pygmy elephants, Sumatran rhinos, orangutans and clouded leopards.


  • Population Approximately 1,500
  • Extinction Risk Endangered
    1. EX

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

Sabah (Borneo), Malaysia

Habitat Loss

The primary threat to these elephants is the loss of continuous forests. Mammals of their size require large areas to find sufficient food. The large blocks of forests they require are fragmented by encroachment and conversion of natural forests to commercial plantations. Logging, expanding agriculture, and palm oil plantations are reducing contact between sub populations, as well as shrinking the forest area available for each sub-population.

Conflict with Humans

Shrinking forests bring the elephants into more frequent contact with people, increasing human -elephant conflict in the region. New oil palm plantations in the area mean more human settlements, with some people setting illegal snares to catch small game. In the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, it is estimated that 20 percent of resident elephants have sustained injuries from these snares.

What WWF Is Doing

Collaring Bornean pymy elephant

Dr. Christy Williams of WWF places a radio collar with GPS and satellite tracking technology on a Bornean elephant.

Until WWF began working in Borneo, no one had ever studied the pygmy elephant. In 2005, WWF successfully attached satellite collars to five pygmy elephants in different herds in the Malaysian state of Sabah. The collaring is part of the first scientific research ever conducted on this little-understood population.Tracking data has provided insight into the movement of these elephants and their use of the forests. Based on the study, WWF has made recommendations to help manage elephant forests, identify elephant corridors and maintain critical forest areas.

The best hope for the long-term survival of Borneo's elephants lies in sustainable forest management for timber production, since elephants can survive and breed in natural forests that are selectively logged.

To address the problem, WWF works with plantation managers and owners in key pygmy elephant habitat in an effort to create reforested wildlife corridors that allow elephants and other species to move freely between natural forests.


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