In the forests of Sabah, a region in the Malaysian section of Borneo, the bones of a dead Bornean pygmy elephant were found, but the bones clearly showed that this was Borneo's Pygmy elephant made famous for having grown his tusks in backwards.
Last year, Sabah's Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) had relocated the elephant they lovingly called Sabre, from his resemblance to a saber-toothed tiger. Sabre was moved from a palm oil estate into a nearby forest that was under the WRU's protection.
Sabre was fitted with a satellite collar, and the team at the Danau Girang Field Center, a research and training facility managed by the Sabah Wildlife Department and Cardiff University, had been tracking his movements ever since.
Just over a month ago in late November 2016, Sabre's radio collar showed that he was no longer moving. Yet Benoit Goossens, director of the Danau Girang Field Centre, wasn't initially alarmed.
"I thought that the unit dropped, which happens often in males," Goossens said. "They find ways to get rid of the unit on the belt from rubbing on trees. And since it was in a protected forest reserve, and that WRU was busy with other rescues, I did not worry too much."
Then, on December 26, the team at WRU discovered a shocking scene the body of a 40-year-old male who had been brutally murdered for his ivory. It wasn't Sabre, but this set off alarm bells and combined with the fact that Sabre's satellite collar suddenly shut off the previous month, Goossens was very concerned for his beloved elephant safety and asked the WRU to investigate.
"I had a really bad feeling about it," Goossens said.
It did not take long for Goossens concern to turn into the grim reality that his feelings were correct, after the Wildlife Rescue Unit informed him that they found Sabre's remains, his satellite collar was lying next to the poor creature.
Sabre's death is a huge blow to Bornean pygmy elephants, according to Goossens.
There are between 1,500 and 2,000 Bornean pygmy elephants left in Borneo, and 95 percent of them are in Sabah, according to Goossens. Their most noticeable characteristic is their height — they're slightly smaller than normal Asian elephants.
Despite this tragedy Goossens remains hopeful that the Bornean people can learn to live with the pygmy elephants, and that poaching can be stopped. "There is always hope," Goossens said. "I personally won't give up! I think wildlife has a future in Sabah."
"Any individual killed is a huge loss, especially a male like Sabre who was about 20 to 25 years old, at its prime age for mating," Goossens said. "The other bull was older, around 40 years. Losing two mature males is a huge blow for the population."
If you'd like to help Asian elephants, you can make a donation to Elephant Nature Park, a Thai sanctuary that rescues elephants from the tourism industry.
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