A young endangered pygmy elephant was shot dead on the side of a roadway in a remote village in Malaysian Borneo, reports the Agence France Press (AFP). Believed to have been killed after destroying local crops, the 4-year-old male is reportedly the third deceased elephant found in the northern Borneo territory in the last eight days.
"(The elephant) was killed out of revenge for destroying crops," local wildlife department director Augustine Tuuga told the AFP, adding the crops included palm oil trees. The elephant was found with its tusks intact, a sign Tuuga says indicates he was not killed by poachers intending to sell ivory on the black market but rather as a “merciless” revenge killing.
"From the position of the injury and the trajectory of the pellet, it is highly probable that the elephant was shot from close range from an elevated place or from the back of a vehicle,” wildlife official Siti Nur’Ain Ampuan Acheh said in a statement, reports the Daily Sabah.
At least 18 pygmy elephants have been killed in Malaysian Borneo since April, according to a local publication. While some of these deaths have been due to natural causes, most can be attributed to the rising tensions caused by human-animal conflict as buffer zones between human settlements and wildlife populations continues to decrease. Earlier this year, six Borneo pygmy elephants were poisoned, but it’s unclear whether they were intentionally poisoned or had accidentally consumed fertilizer used by nearby palm oil plantations.
Borneo’s forests are among the most biologically diverse habitats on Earth, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. Here, pygmy elephants join the ranks of orangutans and clouded leopards as they face deforestation threats from timber, palm oil, rubber, and mineral industries. In the last century, the region has lost over half of its forest, while international demand for palm oil continues to increase. Paired with a growing human population of around 1 to 3 percent each year, these animals are threatened primarily by the high price tag they fetch on the black market as well as habitat destruction.
There are estimated to be less than 1,500 pygmy elephants left in the area. At less than 2.5 meters (8 feet) tall, only some male and no female pygmy elephants have tusks. Rather, this generally shy durian-loving animal is hunted for its meat and leather.