The loud trumpet blast was followed immediately by a large grey mass emerging from the rainforest onto the riverbank just 5 meters away.
It was a rogue male pygmy elephant with a rare sabre tooth tusk – growing downwards instead of upwards. We were on a long boat on a tributary of the Kinabatangan river in Sabah, northern Borneo. Our guide and boatman, Eryanto was hyper excited. This rogue male, living apart from the local herd is only seen about once a year. For me it was it was a very emotional experience. Elephants have a magical quality perhaps bringing back ancestral memories. It was the first I’d seen in the wild. There was a tear in my eye and a very un British–like upper lip.
The world’s smallest elephant It grows to a height of 2.5m compared to Asia Elephants, at 3m and African at 3.6m. It’s also the cutest with baby faces, enlarged ears and pot bellies. They must have inspired Walt Disney for Dumbo. They are seriously endangered with some 2000 left living in 200 strong herds in Sabah, Malaysia, and East Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo. The Bornean Pygmy Elephant is closely related to those in Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia but has been recently confirmed as a separate species. It has also been influenced by interbreeding with captive elephants released into the wild by the Sultan of Sulu. He had received them as gift from the East India company in 1750.
Numbers are declining dramatically as habitat is destroyed and fragmented, preventing roaming. And poaching. Eryanto insisted we do not immediately share this siting on any social media. When this had happened a year before poachers became aware and came and killed the rogue male for his rare tusks.
It was our last boat trip of our visit, our last chance to see a pygmy elephant. The main herd, which is tracked, was 50 miles away so we were not expecting a siting. On landing back at the lodge a drink was in order both in celebration and to calm down after the emotional high. The bar was empty. “Where is Ubud (the bar manager who we’d been teaching obscure English slang on previous evenings) when you need him,” I said. “I am here,” he replied, rising up from behind the bar where he had been restocking the fridge. Noting our surprise, he added, “I see you gobsmacked.”