Pygmy Elephants Poisoned, Leaving Baby Orphan Nicknamed Joe

February 21, 20130 Comments

One Orphaned, 14 Dead in Elephant Poisoning

Last month in Malaysia, a baby elephant was found caressing its dead mother. The baby, nicknamed Joe, is the lone survivor of an attack on elephants that left 14 dead. Officials found the corpses near the intersection of reserve, logging and palm oil lands. Known for their baby faces and Dumbo ears, Borneo Pygmy Elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) are usually known for their gentility. Females do not even have tusks, but are still poisoned by farmers as “pests.” The story underscores the threats to elephants that come from land use, not poaching for ivory. The elephants are protected by law, and Malaysian officials are seeking suspects in relation to the elephant deaths.

CSI Malaysia: tracking the toxins of the killers

As ABC News reports, the Malaysian government has ordered multiple chemical tests to determine the elephants’ cause of death. Early reports indicate that they died from internal bleeding. Although a bacterial infection could have caused the deaths, the elephant heard was most likely poisoned. Nearby loggers and palm oil plantations are key suspects in the case. The Malaysian government, PETA, and Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents in Sabah have all pledged money to help catch the killers. Combined, the rewards for information leading to the culprits come to more than $22,000.

Habitat conflict

Logging and palm oil plantation expansion have encroached on the elephants’ dwindling habitat. According to Extinction Countdown, palm oil plantations pose the strongest threat to pygmy elephant populations where the 14 bodies were found. The plantations shrink forests and break up traditional migration routes, reducing access to food, and bringing the elephants into more direct contact with people.

Boycott Palm Oil?

Say No To Palm Oil argues that we should boycott the substance, which is found in hundreds of baked goods, cosmetics, and household chemicals. Still, palm oil extraction is important to the livelihoods of local farmers, who don’t have many other job options. To balance these concerns, Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil calls for a more balanced approach, an industry ethics certification to reward ethical producers. No matter the economics of palm oil, the WWF is calling for better protection of the herds.

Orphan Joe

According to the Daily Mail, the pygmy elephant orphan has a new mother—zookeeper Augustine David. Augustine and his staff bathe Joe and bottle feed him. Though Joe may have ingested some poison through his mother’s milk, he’s expected to fully recover. It’s unclear if he will ever be able to return to the wild.

We originally noticed this story on National Geographic’s Daily News site.

Sources and links

Update on Joe’s Recovery – July 2013
Poisoned baby Borneo pygmy elephant survives, by Stephanie Lee, The Star Online, July 9, 2013
Motherless Elephant Has New Pal, by Celine Fernandez, WSJ Blog, July 10, 2013

The sanctuary where Joe lives: Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, managed by the Sabah Wildlife Department. At 280 acres, it is one of the largest wildlife parks in Malaysia.


Filed in: AllHuman-Elephant ConflictIssue EducationSanctuaries

About the Author ()

Cedar Attanasio is a freelance writer and editor based in San Francisco. When he’s not writing about elephants, he reports on Latin America, immigration, and the environment. You can connect with him on twitter @cedarattanasio

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