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Recent estimate of Asian elephants in Borneo reveals a smaller population

Cite this dataset

Cheah, Cheryl; Yoganand, K. (2022). Recent estimate of Asian elephants in Borneo reveals a smaller population [Dataset]. Dryad.


Asian elephants occurring in northern Borneo form a geographically isolated and genetically distinct population. Of this, the subpopulation of Central Sabah holds the greatest opportunity for long-term survival, due to a relatively large population size and occurrence over a vast, contiguous, and protected habitat. We surveyed this subpopulation in 2015 using advanced methods to obtain a population size estimate. We used the distance-sampling framework and laid out transects following a stratified random design for counting elephant dung piles; measured dung decay following the ‘retrospective’ method; and used Bayesian analysis to estimate dung decay rate and dung pile density. Thus, we estimated a posterior mean dung decay rate of 212 days (95% BCI: 133–319), an overall elephant density of 0.07 per km2 (95% BCI: 0.03–0.11), and a population size of 387 elephants (95% BCI: 169–621). These estimates were far lower than the population size of 1132 individuals and density of 1.18 per km2 estimated in 2008. It is unlikely that there has been a steep population decline, as there were no drastic land-use changes between 2008 and 2015, nor were there other identifiable causes for a population decline. Therefore, it appears that the methodological and analytical flaws in the previous estimate are the most plausible reason for this observed difference. Given that the new estimate suggests a much smaller population, it is prudent and precautionary to use the new estimate as the basis for all policy decisions and conservation actions for elephants in Sabah.

Usage notes

Please refer to the ReadMe file. The R file provides the codes to run the analysis and to calculate the estimates of elephant dung pile density, and dung decay rates (persistence time).