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Reflections: Pygmy Elephants of Borneo and The Deforestation of Sabah

A couple of years ago whilst touring around the Malaysian state of Sabah (on the island of Borneo). Liza and I had a very close call with a small heard of Borneo Pygmy Elephants, on a remote logging road, within the Islands interior. On arrival in Borneo, we knew we wanted to get off the beaten track, and do a bit of off road driving. So we arranged the hire of a basic 4WD from our hotel in Kota Kinabalu.

Large Logging Truck in Sabah Borneo

As the trip was only to be a short time (2 weeks in total) away from Australia, we also decided to spend up a little on this trip, after reading about an exclusive (but quite expensive) eco-lodge. The lodge sounded like a fantastic place for a first hand experience of the jungle’s of Borneo. It’s name was ‘The Borneo Rain Forest Lodge’, and is located on the fringe of the forest’s of the Danum Valley Conservation Area.

We’d only decided to head to the lodge a few hours earlier, after reading a favorable review in our Lonely Planet. Guests of the Borneo Rain Forest Lodge are normally transported the 70km from the main highway to the lodge via private vehicles, but as we had our own 4WD we decided to make our own way in. This proved a little more difficult than we first thought.

The Logging Road Into The Lodge Was A Difficult Drive

For starters, the complete 70km into the lodge was via an unsealed road, with the first 50km being shared with a few psychotic logging truck drivers, before you enter the conservation area proper. Maneuvering around the loaded logging rigs on dusty winding roads required a fair amount of concentration, and a little luck.

Logging The Forrest's of Borneo

Another massive tree get’s loaded up and shipped off. Day by day and piece by piece, the forest gets dismantled.

On top of this, we had no idea where we were actually going. There were no signs to the lodge (due to all the guests being shuttled in), and there were several logging roads darting off in every direction imaginable.

Then to top it all off, we were racing the clock. It was already late afternoon and the sun was quickly falling below the surrounding foliage. Locating the lodge in the dark would have been all but impossible, so I had the foot down, so to speak.

As with most people, we’ve seen documentaries on the aggressive logging and deforestation of the worlds endangered forests, but we were both quite shocked to see the sheer size of the trees that were being felled.

As you can see by the images in this post, the trees that are being felled are obviously quite old, and we were passed by truck, after truck, after truck on the way into the Danum Valley.

Seeing The Pygmy Elephants Was An Absolute Thrill

As we rounded a blind corner, only a few kilometers away from the lodge, I had to make an abrupt halt. Driving along the road at close to dusk was a perfect opportunity to spot the elusive Borneo Pygmy Elephants. So perfect in fact, that we nearly ran into seven of them.

There they were in front of us, three adult females, with three adolescents and a small baby leading the heard. The elephants were using the road as an easy access path, between sections of the forest, and we were extremely lucky to see them out in the open.

We let them slowly make their way along the road as we fumbled around for the camera. I thought we were going to be stuck behind them for ages, but they soon darted off into the thick forest, and out of sight.

I was blown away by what was before us. Not because we were witnessing elephants, as I’d seen these magnificent creatures many times on my previous trips to Africa, and other parts of Asia. Although Elephants are amazing creatures in their own right, I was memorized because the Borneo Pygmy Elephants are extremely rare.

The Future of The Borneo Pygmy Elephant

The rare Pygmy Elephants of Borneo have numbers around a mere 2000, and are listed by the IUCN (international union for conservation and nature) as an endangered species. Compare this to the African Elephant, who’s numbers fall in the hundreds of thousands.

With numbers like these, the future of Borneo Pygmy Elephant is still quite grim. Like most endangered species, the blame lies with human habitation, and also a thirst for exotic timbers. Although area’s of protected forest such as the Danum Valley Conservation Area, and the Maliau Basin, are helping the plight of these magnificent creatures. The logging we witnessed on the way into the protected area was quite aggressive. All you have to do is look at the photo’s of the logs aboard the trucks in this post to see that even the monster tree’s are given no mercy.

  • Borneo Rain Forest Lodge can be found here.
  • More information on the Borneo Elephant can be found here.
  • For more information on the deforestation of Borneo click here.

Your Thoughts and Comments?

Have you witnessed wildlife in an unsuspecting way such as this? What about the logging of the precious hard woods of Malaysia, and elsewhere on the planet. Have you been to such area that is being destroyed at such an alarming rate?

A Little More About The Author

Jason has traveled the world extensively during the last 20 years, with overland journeys on six continents and across over 90 countries. This site serves as a chronicle of the images and tales from these journeys, as well as offering advice and general information for other like minded travelers.

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  1. Andy says:

    Came across your site while doing some research on an upcoming trip to Borneo. Your photo of the logging truck is one of those “picture tells 1000 words” moments, where it all hits home. The world won’t know what its lost until it’s already gone. Fantastic story otherwise, glad you were treated to the sight of the elephants!

    • Jason says:

      Hey Andy, Glad you stumbled upon the site and you’ll love Borneo. It’s a great place that is not to spoilt by tourism as yet. On the other hand thought, the deforestation of the habitat of the local animals is quite compelling. Liza and I were both in shock, but it was a great thrill to see the Pygmy Elephants thats for sure. Safe travels…

  2. The Island of Borneo is the most wonderful place. the main attraction of this place is elephant(still quit grim). tourist should visit in Borneo with family.

    • Jason says:

      Your correct in your praise of Borneo. Although I’ve only seem a small amount of the island, I really enjoyed my time there. Seeing the Pygmy Elephants was a lucky occurrence.

  3. Flipnomad says:

    i have never seen a big animal in the wild yet… it’s one of my dreams.. you’re lucky you’ve seen alot :-) i usually go to zoos so i could catch a glimpse of them… 

    • Jason says:

      Hey Flip, Seeing animals such as rare as these in the wild is one of my greatest memories of travel. I don’t really like going to zoo’s, although I do commend them on their work with breeding programs ect. Lets hope that animals such as these can continue to be viewed in their natural habitat.

  4. Steve says:

    Wow, what a rare site to see.  With so few of them around, I can see why anyone would be blown away to see them.  I haven’t seen anything quite as rare before, but one time when I was in Guatemala I was taken aback when I walked down one trail.  Out of nowhere, I became surrounded by dozens of Coatimundi.  It was even more interesting to me since I’d never seen the animal before.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Steve, Yeah it was quite a thrill to see some quite rare animals. I had to jolt my memory on the ‘Coatimundi’ with a quick Google of the name. I do remember these creatures, and I believe I sighted one at Igauzu falls many years ago. Wildlife spotting is one thing that I have enjoyed through my years of travel. Thanks for stopping by mate.

  5.  Great for you guys to see such rare animals. Borneo is slowly loosing everything in this regard. They are happy with small reserves in the name of research, and I imagine it will get worse until such places are just zoos. 

    There are a few people fighting the good fight. But, money talks and palm oil along with timber pays more bills that wildlife watching. Harsh facts in out declining eco world.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Dave, It was a thrill to see the pygmy elephants, but it was an absolute shock to see what has happened to the virgin forests of this beautiful island. Allot of the timber (over 80% of the virgin forest) that was felled, was apparently done so illegally in the later part of last century. Also what is alarming is the fact that most of this timber ended up in Japan, if you can believe the reports.

      You mentioned palm oil above, and as I believe this is an even bigger threat to the precious remaining forest in Sabah. We witnessed mile after mile of palm oil plantations whilst we drove around the state, from top to bottom. I’m no eco-warrior but it’s truly horrific what is happening.

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