These are endangered sub-species of Asian Elephants known as Borneo Pygmy Elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis). They are largely concentrated in the northeastern part of Sabah (Malaysian Borneo), particularly at the lower Kinabatangan floodplain. There are about 300 individuals in the floodplain. The overall population in Borneo is estimated to be around 1500 individuals.
Their existence is under threat due to massive conversion of their habitat to agriculture land especially for oil palm cultivation. Elephants are known to travel for life on the same migration route as their ancestors. When agricultural lands barricade their migration route it cause major human and elephant conflict. The loss of forests is also the loss of food source for such large animals.
Elephants are intelligent mammals. Adult elephants are very protective of their young ones. The herd is headed by a matriarch usually travels in small groups of around 8 to 10 individuals.
In the Kinabatangan river, tourist boats have to keep a distance of 30 metres away from where the elephants. If there are elephants swimming at the river bank they have to retreat further. Boats are also not to stay too long in the area and are required to switch off their boat engine during the viewing period. That is for the safety of the tourists and also to avoid stressing out the elephants with their presence.
Sometimes herd like this can be seen gathering in open feeding grounds, particularly on river banks, to graze and to swim.
One adult can eat up to 150 kg vegetation per day. Feeding mostly on grass, wild bananas and even young shoots of palm trees. They also require supplementary minerals which they get from salt licks or mineral concentrations in limestone outcrops.
River is part of their migration route. The herd will always wait for the right time to cross to the other side of the river. This is a bull, the last to cross the river after ensuring that the rest have reached the other river bank.
More information about Borneo Pygmy Elephants can be found on WWF’s website.