The picture was a tearjerker: a baby elephant trying to revive his dead mother with his little trunk. She and the other thirteen Malaysian pygmy elephants in his herd were apparently poisoned to death in the Gunung Rara forest reserve. Their bodies were found in an area that was being converted from forest to commercial farmland.
Left alone the orphan surely would have died, but thankfully he was found, and there was room at the inn. Lok Kawi Wildlife Park in Malaysia’s Sabah state took the little guy in and named him Joe, short for Kejora (“Morning Star”).
Video credit: Reuters/NTD.TV
When Joe arrived at Lok Kawi, he was separated from the other elephants because workers didn’t know the cause of his mother’s death; if it was a bacterial infection, they feared that Joe might spread it to other sanctuary residents. Officials have since identified the poison that killed his mother and has released Baby Joe from quarantine.
Today, Baby Joe is thriving. Since his rescue, he has more than doubled in weight, from 90 kg to almost 200. He has bonded with his caretaker, Augustine, who can be seen here giving the fuzzy tot a bath. He also has a new best friend: Bikang, a four-year-old fellow pygmy elephant. Bikang found his way to the sanctuary when he was discovered injured in the wild after losing part of his trunk to a trap.
Bikang will likely move to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Borneo Pygmy Elephant Sanctuary and spend his life there. Officials expect Baby Joe to follow him a couple years later, but don’t know whether he will stay. While they hope that eventually Joe can be released to the wild, it may not be possible because he is now used to humans — though even wild pygmy elephants are known to be more gentle and friendlier to humans than Asian elephants.
As the World Wildlife Fund puts it, “Walt Disney himself couldn’t have crafted a cuter elephant. The pygmy elephants of Borneo are baby-faced with oversized ears, plump bellies and tails so long they sometimes drag on the ground as they walk.”
A mere 1,500 pygmy elephants survive today, most of them in Malaysia. The animals are threatened by deforestation. They need large, continuous tracts of forest to find enough food to keep their massive bodies going, but humans are breaking up the forests to sell the lumber and convert the land to commercial farming. As a result pygmy elephants have less food available to them, and they are encountering humans more often when they return to former feeding spots and find the trees replaced by people.
The World Wildlife Fund has called on the Malaysian government to do more to protect pygmy elephants by listing them as “totally protected,” protecting their habitat from loggers and increasing patrols to prevent illegal actions.
Like Baby Joe’s herd, an elephant herd in Sumatra was killed by poisoned fruit that people left out for them to eat, National Geographic reports.
If local governments do not take steps to protect the endangered elephants and their habitats, people will continue to take their land and kill them to protect it.
Photo credit: Reuters/NTD.TV via YouTube