Scientists Develop Better Understanding Of Origins Of Bornean Elephant

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Genetic analysis of the Bornean elephant has provided new insights into how the Asian elephant subspecies made its way to occupy a small sliver of the island of Borneo in South-East Asia. Until recently the origins of the species remained a complete mystery, however the recent analysis shed some light suggesting that elephants crossed over to the island on the last land bridge that linked the mainland with the Sundra Islands.

Smaller than its Asian cousin

The Bornean elephant is tiny in comparison to its Asian elephant cousin and grows to a height of eight feet which is as much as 2 feet shorter than the average height of an Asian elephant. The species is known for their baby face and massive ears and live in the Malaysian state of Sabah. It had previously been speculated that humans were responsible for bringing elephants to the island over 300 years ago.

Using new DNA analysis techniques

DNA analysis which had been undertaken previous disproved this thesis showing that the Bornean elephant is genetically unique and arrived on the island over 300,000 years ago. The latest analysis of the genetic data used advanced modelling techniques that were previously unavailable. Scientists compared the results from these models with the genetic data that already existed and used statistics to develop a theory that produced the best explanation for the genetic diversity of the Bornean elephant.

Humans not involved in introduction

According to the latest models it is estimated that the Bornean elephant arrived on the island somewhere between 18,300 and 11,400 years ago and this is the reason why scientists have failed to find elephant bones amongst more ancient strata. The estimated period corresponds with the same time sea levels were extremely low and elephants could easily migrate between the Sundra Islands. Scientists say they do not completely exclude more complex scenarios but it is extremely unlikely that either humans were involved in their introduction, or their arrival was extremely ancient.

Better conservation

Scientists hope they well be able to develop a better understanding of the origins of the Bornean elephant which will allow them to implement more effective conservation plans for a subspecies that is incredibly endangered. The Bornean elephant faces all the same threats all species face which is habitat destruction and fragmentation as well as human predation. Bornean elephants are routinely poisoned by palm oil farmers who consider the species a pest.

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