Endangered Borneo pygmy elephants found dead, possibly poisoned

A baby Borneo pygmy elephant tries to wake its dead mother, who was likely the victim of poisoning
Over the past three weeks, 10 Borneo pygmy elephants have been found dead in the Gunung Raya Forest Reserve, in the Malaysian state of Sabah, and officials believe that they may be a victim of poisoning.

It's unknown yet whether the poisoning was intentional, however whereas poachers have killed other elephants in the region for their ivory, these particular animals show no evidence of poaching. Autopsies performed on the unfortunate animals revealed that they had suffered from severe hemorrhaging and ulcers in their gastrointestinal tracts.

[ Related: Poisoning feared in mysterious deaths of 10 pygmy elephants ]

“We highly suspect that it might be some form of acute poisoning from something that they had eaten, but we are still waiting for the laboratory results,” said Seth Nathan, senior veterinarian of Sabah state's wildlife department.

"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," said Sabah environmental minister Masidi Manjun in a statement, according to the National Post. "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."

[ Related: Iran successfully launches monkey into space ]

The World Wildlife Fund, which monitors and protects endangered species, estimates that there are fewer than 1,500 Borneo pygmy elephants in existence today. Growing to only about 2.5 metres tall, the pygmy elephant is known for its babyish looks, large ears and long tails, and has only been recognized as a distinct species from other Asian elephants since 2003, when this was verified by DNA testing.

Conservation efforts over the years have helped stabilize their population, but the species is still threatened by poaching and habitat loss, and its name appears in Appendix I of CITES (aka the Washington Convention) — a list of species threatened with imminent extinction due to commercial trade, in this case of body parts.

(Photo courtesy: Sabah Wildlife Department/AFP/Getty Images)

Geek out with the latest in science and weather.
Follow @ygeekquinox on Twitter!