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ENVIRONMENT REPORT – Pygmy Elephants of Borneo - 2003-09-18

Broadcast: September 19, 2003

This is the VOA Special English Environment Report.

Scientists have identified the elephants that live on the island of Borneo in Malaysia as separate from other Asian elephants. The group Worldwide Fund for Nature, or W-W-F, announced the finding. This follows genetic tests on waste from Borneo's Pygmy Elephants, as they are called.

The Sabah Wildlife Department in Malaysia permitted researchers to collect droppings from forests on Borneo. They sent the material to Columbia University in New York City. There, the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology carried out the tests.

Scientists compared the D-N-A to the genes of elephants that live in mainland Malaysia and in Sri Lanka, India and other Asian countries.

The research shows that Borneo elephants were separated from other Asian elephants about three-hundred-thousand years ago. Some differences are easy to see. The Borneo elephants are smaller than other elephants. Their ears and tails make up a larger part of their bodies. And their tusks are straighter.

Also, the chairman of the W-W-F program in Malaysia says the Borneo elephants are gentler compared to other Asian elephants.

The group says the test results mean that the pygmy elephants of Borneo should be treated as their own kind. It says the elephants should not be permitted to reproduce with other Asian elephants. It says there should also be research into the reproductive rates of the Borneo elephants and survival of their young.

The nature group notes a long-standing dispute about where the Borneo elephants came from. One theory is that their ancestors were gifts from the British East India Company to the Sultan of Sulu in the seventeenth century. The scientists, however, say the new findings reject the argument that humans brought the elephants to the island.

The other theory is that the elephants could remain from a native population that traveled between Borneo and Sumatra. During the ice ages, more than ten-thousand years ago, sea levels were much lower. Land sometimes linked the two islands. The elephants could have been trapped on Borneo after the water rose again.

This VOA Special English Environment Report was written by Caty Weaver.