ELEPHANTS, RHINOS, CLOUDED LEOPARDS AND GIANT INSECTS ON BORNEO

BORNEO ELEPHANTS

About 1,000 to 2,500 elephants live on Borneo. They are regarded as a distinct species, Washington Post from Asian elephants. Near all so them are in the far norther part of the island in Sabah. It was long thought that these elephants were descendants of domesticated elephants that had escaped or been set free in the forest. But DNA indicates that are genetically different from other Asian elephants and had been on Borneo at least since the last Ice Age.

Asian elephants in Borneo are smaller than other Asian elephants and have larger ears and a more rounded body. They are very gentle creatures and known for not being aggressive around people.

The WWF wildlife group estimates that fewer than 1,500 Borneo pygmy elephants exist. They live mainly in Sabah and grow to about eight feet (245 centimeters) tall, a foot or two shorter than mainland Asian elephants. Known for their babyish faces, large ears and long tails, pygmy elephants were found to be a distinct subspecies only in 2003, after DNA testing. Their numbers have stabilized in recent years amid conservation efforts to protect their jungle habitats from being torn down for plantations and development projects.

See Asian Animals factsanddetails.com

Tourist Killed by a Borneo Elephant

In December 2011, Associated Press reported: A pygmy elephant fatally gored an Australian tourist in a remote Malaysian wildlife reserve on Borneo island. Jenna O'Grady Donley died of injuries from the attack on Wednesday at the Tabin wildlife reserve, the first known fatal attack in Malaysia's eastern Sabah state, said the region's wildlife department director, Laurentius Ambu. The wild male elephant had been roaming alone around a mud volcano when Donley, a friend and their Malaysian guide saw it while trekking near their resort, Ambu said. [Source: AP. December 8, 2011]

Donley, 25, a vet, is believed to have gone within 10 metres of the animal, which might have charged at her because it was alarmed by the unfamiliar humans, Ambu said. Rangers had not seen the elephant but planned to drive it back into the forest, Ambu said. The elephant that attacked Donley is believed to have been a near-adult about 2 metres tall. Australia's foreign affairs department said the victim was from New South Wales. There were occasional elephant attacks in Sabah, Ambu said, usually if the animals were disturbed. This was the first incident of its kind at the Tabin reserve. People should remain at least 50 metres from wild elephants, he said.

Ten Dead Borneo Pygmy Elephants Feared Poisoned

In January 2013, ten endangered Borneo pygmy elephants have been found dead in a Malaysian forest under mysterious circumstances, and wildlife officials said that they probably were poisoned. Sean Yoong of Associated Press wrote: “Carcasses of the baby-faced elephants were found near each other over the past three weeks at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve, said Laurentius Ambu, director of the wildlife department in Malaysia's Sabah state on Borneo island. In one case, officers rescued a 3-month-old calf that was apparently trying to wake its dead mother.

Poisoning appeared to be the likely cause, but officials have not determined whether it was intentional, said Sabah environmental minister Masidi Manjun. Though some elephants have been killed for their tusks on Sabah in past years, there was no sign that these animals had been poached. "This is a very sad day for conservation and Sabah. The death of these majestic and severely endangered Bornean elephants is a great loss to the state," Masidi said in a statement. "If indeed these poor elephants were maliciously poisoned, I would personally make sure that the culprits would be brought to justice and pay for their crime." [Source: Sean Yoong, Associated Press, January 29, 2013]

The elephants found dead were believed to be from the same family group and ranged in age from 4 to 20 years, said Sen Nathan, the wildlife department's senior veterinarian. Seven were female and three were male, he said. Post-mortems showed they suffered severe hemorrhages and ulcers in their gastrointestinal tracts. None had gunshot injuries. "We highly suspect that it might be some form of acute poisoning from something that they had eaten,” Nathan said.

First Evidence of the Sumatran rhino in Kalimantan in 20 years

In April 2013, Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: “Conservationists working to save the Sumatran rhinoheard good news this week as WWF-Indonesia has found evidence of at least one Sumatran rhino persisting in the Indonesian state of Kalimantan, located on the island of Borneo. Small populations of Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) survive on Sumatra and on Borneo (in the Malaysian state of Sabah), but this is the first time scientists have confirmed the presence of the notoriously shy animal in Kalimantan in over two decades. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, April 2, 2013]

"This is a very important finding to the world, and especially to Indonesia's conservation work, as this serves as a new record on the presence of Sumatran rhinos in East Kalimantan and especially in West Kutai," Bambang Noviyanto, the director for biodiversity conservation at the Forestry Ministry, said. Currently scientists estimate that there are around 200-275 Sumatran rhinos surviving in the wild.

Although WWF-Indonesia teams have not seen a rhino in Kalimantan yet, they have recently discovered footprints, mud wallows, tree markings, and signs of rhino-feeding. There is no information yet on whether this is just one rhino or a group of survivors. "The fact that this discovery comes more than a decade after the last evidence of the species in Kalimantan, despite the opening up of previously remote areas during that period, suggests that this might be just one or a small number of individuals," explains Payne. "If so, they might not have been breeding. There may be inbreeding, or a skewed sex ratio, or simply old or otherwise infertile rhinos."

Payne's organization, Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), is working to breed Sumatran rhinos in large semi-wild enclosures in Sabah. Currently, BORA has two rhinos, a male (Tam) and a female (Puntung). Tam was captured after he wandered into a palm oil plantation with an injured foot, while Puntung was taken from the wild when it was realized she was alone in a forest fragment with no chance of meeting a male for breeding. Payne and a group of scientists are now trying to breed the pair. A similar breeding program on Sumatra last year saw the birth of the first Sumatran rhino calf in captivity since 2001 and only the fourth in the last hundred years. However, more rhinos are likely needed if the breeding programs in Sumatran and Sabah are to be successful in the long-term.

For now, WWF-Indonesia conservationists are working to determine just how many rhinos might persist in East Kalimantan and work with local communities to protect the area. "Rhinos, dolphins, clouded leopards and local buffalo are among God's creations that are getting rare, but apparently they're still alive in West Kutai," Ismael Thomas SH. M.Si, the head of the West Kutai district, said. "We must protect them, and the communities must live in harmony with nature."

New Species of Clouded Leopard Found on Borneo

The cloud leopards of Borneo and Sumatra are slightly darker than mainland species and have smaller and different-shaped cloud-like markings. In 1823, a zoologist described them as a separate series but later the designation was changed to a subspecies, In the later 2000s, DNA analysis found that DNA of clouded leopards from Borneo-Sumatra are is as different from mainland clouded leopards as that of lions and tigers and this the Borneo-Sumatra clouded leopards was declared a new species: the Borneo cloud leopard (or Sunderland cloud leopard).

The World Wildlife Fund said American scientists compared the DNA of the clouded leopard with that of its mainland cousin and determined the two populations diverged some 1.4 million years ago. "Genetic research results clearly indicate that the clouded leopard of Borneo should be considered a separate species," WWF quoted Dr. Stephen O'Brien of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, which carried out the tests, as saying. [Source: AP, March 15, 2007[

The clouded leopard is Borneo's largest predator, has the longest canine teeth relative to its size of any cat, and can grow as large as a small panther. There are estimated to be between 5,000 and 11,000 of these animals left in Borneo's rain forests, which are threatened by logging and are believed to hold many more undiscovered species, WWF said. [Ibid]

Andrew Kitchener, a Scottish scientist who led a study of the markings of the Borneo cloud leopard, told the Times of London that the Borneo leopard has smaller cloud-shaped markings than the mainland cat, a double stripe along the back instead of a single one, more spots within each cloud and a darker coloration. “The moment we started comparing the skins, ot was clear we were comparing two species.”

Residing mainly in trees the Sunderland clouded leopards is rarely seem and few of them are in captivity. In 2010 one was filmed for the first time, AFP reported: The leopard, a healthy-looking animal a metre long (3 feet) and weighing about 40 kilos (90 pounds) was caught on video at night at the Dermakot Forest Reserve in Malaysian Borneo's Sabah state. "What surprised us was that while clouded leopards are very elusive cats, this one was not scared at all," said Azlan Mohamed, a field scientist with University Sabah Malaysia. "Despite our powerful spot lights and the roar of our vehicle's engine, it walked around our vehicle calmly," he told AFP. "It is rare to see the big cat in the wild. These cats are usually shy of humans, it was by chance we caught it on video." [Source: AFP, February 16, 2010]

Insects in Borneo

Accounts of early explorers to Borneo described "ant marches," in which "glistening rivers of warrior ants, eight miles long, hundreds of yard wide and a foot deep...consumed everything in their path, then mysteriously" disappeared. On the their journey through Borneo the Blair brothers found the swarms of highly venomous brown sweat bees to be their biggest problem. They particularly like armpits and "were solely after the salt in our sweat," they said, "and settles softly all over us, like fur coats of venom." Once Loren was stung so badly in the back of the neck he went blind for almost an hour." [Source: "Ring of Fire" by Lawrence and Lorne Blair, Bantam Books, New York]

The Raja Brooke Birdwing is one of the world’s largest, rarest and most colorful butterflies. Native to the rain forest Borneo, it brilliantly colored and has a wingspan of 6 to 12 inches. It was first caught by Alfred Russell Wallace who named after a fried in Sarawak. One reason its so rarely seen is that it spends most of its time in the upper canopy.

Wallace wrote: "The beauty and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable, and none but a naturalist can understand the intense excitement I felt when I at length captured it...my heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt much more like fainting than I have done with immediate apprehension of death. I had a headache the rest of the day." Today a prepared pair of birdwing butterflies sell for up to $2,500 on the black market.

World's Longest Insect Found in Borneo

Raphael G. Satter of AP wrote: Nearly the length of a human arm, a recently identified stick bug from the island of Borneo is the world's longest insect, British scientists. The specimen was found by a local villager and handed to Malaysian amateur naturalist Datuk Chan Chew Lun in 1989, according to Philip Bragg, who formally identified the insect in this month's issue of peer-reviewed journal Zootaxa. The insect was named Phobaeticus chani, or "Chan's megastick," in Chan's honor. [Source: Raphael G. Satter, Ap, October 16, 2008]

Paul Brock, a scientific associate of the Natural History Museum in London unconnected to the animal's discovery said there was no doubt it was the longest extant insect ever found. Looking more like a solid shoot of bamboo than its smaller, frailer cousins, the dull-green insect measures about 22 inches (56.7 centimeters), if its delicate, twig-like legs are counted. There are 14 inches (35.7 centimeters) from the tip of its head to the bottom of its abdomen, beating the previous record body length, held by Phobaeticus kirbyi, also from Borneo, by about an inch (2.9 centimeters).

Stick bugs, also known as phasmids, have some of the animal kingdom's cleverest camouflage. Although some phasmids use noxious sprays or prickly spines to deter their predators, generally the bugs assume the shape of sticks and leaves to avoid drawing attention. "Their main defense is basically hanging around, looking like a twig," Brock said. "It will even sway in the wind."

For Bragg, who works as a schoolteacher and catalogues stick bugs as a hobby, the discovery showed the urgency of conservation work. "There aren't enough specialists around to work on all the insects in the world," he said. "There's going to be stuff that's extinct before anyone gets around to describing it." The Phobaeticus chani is now a part of the Natural History Museum's "Creepy Crawlies" gallery.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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