Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on May 21, 2008
When the Sultan of Java sent the Sultan of Sulu a gift of Pygmy Elephants hundreds of years ago, he couldn’t possibly have understood that this gift would save a genetically distinct species from extinction. The Pygmy elephant is genetically distinct from other Southeast Asian elephants and was once found only on and around Java. With the arrival of Europeans starting in the 1500s, the elephant lost most of its original territory and became extinct by the end of the 1700s — following the typical pattern of European-minded man-over-the-environment philosophy.
Recently, however, a pack of these elephants that look quite different from Asian elephants was found on Borneo, an island that still has areas untouched by white people. There was some confusion over whether these elephants had migrated over a land bridge some 18,000 years ago or had come to Borneo some other way. But when cross-referenced with historical records and archaeological evidence, experts could not confirm that the elephants had been there for more than a few hundred years.
That’s where the story of the royal gift fits in. The Sultan of Sulu is responsible for removing the descendants of this original gift group to Borneo and setting them free. For what reason, we may never know. But was is clear is that his actions inadvertently saved the pygmy elephant from extinction — at least until archaeologists unearth evidence showing that the elephants have been on Borneo longer than a few hundred years.
Which makes this is the oldest example of humans intervening to prevent the extinction of a species.
The elephants still face challenges, however. Southeast Asia is in the biofuel game, converting rain forest to palm oil plantations at an alarming rate. What will be the next gift to save this species?
Is there a Sultan in the house?
(via National Geographic News)