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article imagePhoto: Baby pygmy elephant mourns, tries to wake dead mom

By JohnThomas Didymus     Jan 30, 2013 in Environment
Kuala Lumpur - Malaysian wild life officials say ten endangered pygmy elephants have been found dead under "mysterious circumstances" in a forest on the island of Borneo in the East Malaysian state of Sabah. Officials say the animals were probably poisoned.
According to the Daily Mail, ten Borneo pygmy elephants were found dead over three weeks at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve. While wildlife officials believe poisoning is the likely cause of the deaths they have not determined that it was intentional.
NDTV.com reports that Laurentius Ambu, director of the wildlife department of Sabah, said carcasses of baby-faced elephants, as the Borneo pygmy elephants are also known, were found near each other over the past three weeks at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve.
Officials said the animals still had their tusks, indicating they were not being poached. They also had no gunshot wounds.
According to officials, in one case, a 3-month-old calf was found that was apparently trying to wake its dead mother. According to The Sun, wildlife officials found the calf trying to use its trunk to nudge its mother awake.
NDTV.com reports that Sabah environment minister Masidi Manjum, acknowledged that although officials believe that poisoning was the most probable cause of the deaths, some elephants have been killed for their tusks in Sabah in the past years. However, he confirmed that there was no evidence of poaching in the recent cases.
Masidi said in a statement: "This is a very sad day for conservation and Sabah. The death of these majestic and severely endangered Bornean elephants is a great loss to the state. If indeed these poor elephants were maliciously poisoned, I would personally make sure that the culprits would be brought to justice and pay for their crime."
Baby elephant trying to wake dead mother
Baby elephant trying to wake dead mother
Sabah Wildlife Department
WWF Wildlife estimates there are less than 1,500 Borneo pygmy elephants alive. They are found mostly in Sabah and grow to about eight feet in height, about two feet shorter than mainland elephants. They have a characteristic "baby face," large ears and long tails. In 2003, experts confirmed their species status using DNA tests.
Sabah wildlife officials say pygmy elephant populations have stabilized recently after efforts to stop encroachment on their natural habitats by plantation and other development projects.
Sen Nathan, wildlife department's senior Veterinarian, said the dead elephants are believed to have belonged to the same group, with ages ranging from four to 20 years. There were seven females and three males.
Officials said that post-mortems revealed severe gastrointestinal hemorrhages and ulcers. Nathan said: "We highly suspect that it might be some form of acute poisoning from something that they had eaten, but we are still waiting for the laboratory results. It was a very sad sight to see the dead elephants, especially one female who had a calf of about three months. The calf was trying to wake her."
Elephants do mourn
Animal behaviour experts say elephants mourn their dead like humans. They are reportedly the only mammals beside humans known to mourn their dead. Individuals have been known to stand by a dead companion for days and visit carcasses of long dead mates. Calves have been known to lose the will to live after the death of a parent and die apparently grief stricken.
The Daily Mail reports that Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation, son of Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, with whom he founded the foundation, said: "I have seen on numerous occasions that where the mother has died and the calf has nowhere else to go, it often stands by her until it too dies. So I’m not surprised by the image but I’m deeply saddened by it."
Travers said elephant calves are weaned at the age of three-and-a-half or four years, and a male individual may stay with its mother until it is ten. A female may remain with its mother for life.
Travers said that the mourning behavior of elephants is due to strong social bonds, highly developed memory and long lifespan. He said: "We call it grief, in elephant language it is something else, but it is the same emotion."
According to The Daily Mail, Oxford University researchers say elephants mourn their dead by touching the dead body with their trunks and sometimes rocking in apparent grief. Elephants also reportedly show concern for companions and care for the sick and dying.
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