A Sultan's gift?

A Bornean Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) in Sabah, North Borneo, Malaysia. Credit: © WWF-Canon / A. Christy WILLIAMS" />A Bornean Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) in Sabah, North Borneo, Malaysia. Credit: © WWF-Canon / A. Christy WILLIAMS In 2003, researchers published a paper in PLoS Biology that came to a conclusion often reached by biologists studying unique, island-bound s

Bob Grant
Bob Grant

Bob Grant is Editor in Chief of The Scientist, where he started in 2007 as a Staff Writer.

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Jul 1, 2008
<figcaption>A Bornean Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) in Sabah, North Borneo, Malaysia. Credit: © WWF-Canon / A. Christy WILLIAMS</figcaption>
A Bornean Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) in Sabah, North Borneo, Malaysia. Credit: © WWF-Canon / A. Christy WILLIAMS

In 2003, researchers published a paper in PLoS Biology that came to a conclusion often reached by biologists studying unique, island-bound species: Borneo's pygmy elephants - forest-dwelling pachyderms of diminutive stature and timid demeanor - are genetically distinct from other Asian elephant subspecies, and they've evolved for millennia separated from their cousins in Thailand, Burma, and elsewhere. But then the researchers changed their minds.

Since that paper, they've fleshed out an alternate scenario that's decidedly more exotic. Specifically, wildlife biologist Junaidi Payne, based at the World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia, and colleagues now suspect that the elephants are remnants of a population believed to be extinct for more than 200 years.

Their theory goes like this: The sultan of...

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