Elephas maximus ssp. ‘Java’

Java Elephant (Elephas maximus ssp. 

Elephants are probably among the best known animals, animals that in the general public may possibly not be mistaken for something else – yet in a scientifically sense elephants are quite uninvestigated and many questions remain open.  

One of these questions is how many subspecies actually exist.  


Asian elephants inhabit the Indian subcontinent, the islands of Sri Lanka, Sumatra, and Borneo, each place is inhabited by an endemic subspecies respectively. The species was much more widespread in the past.  

The animals are still occasionally kept in captivity as work elephants, even more so in the past, thus many ‘wild’ elephant populations, living or extinct, may in fact just represent feral populations.  

The extinct elephant population from the island of Java obviously was a native one, since elephants are known to have lived on the island at least since the last interglacial.  


Like in other places in Asia also the Javan Elephants were occasionally kept in captivity, whence they were shipped from place to place across the islands in the Sulu sea many hundreds of years ago, usually as much-valued gifts between rulers. In about 1395 for example, the Raja of Java gave two elephants to the Raja of the Sultanate of Sulu (this Sultanate comprised parts of Mindanao and Palawan, Philippines as well as north-eastern Borneo). Some of the descendants of these elephants were subsequently released on the island of Borneo.  

The wild Javan elephant population died out soon after, but their descendants obviously survive on the island of Borneo, at least genetically imbedded within the endemic Bornean Elephant population, which was described as a distinct subspecies (Elephas maximus ssp. borneensis P. E. P. Deraniyagala) in 1950. [1]  


The Java Elephant was once described as Elephas maximus ssp. sondaicus P. E. P. Deraniyagala on the basis of an illustration of a carving on Borabudur, a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple in Magelang, Central Java, this name, however, seems to be invalid. Nevertheless the native Javan Elephant population appears to have been distinct from the other populations and most probably represented an now extinct endemic subspecies.  

The youngest Java Elephant remains can be dated to about 1350. [1]  


The island of Java obviously harbored another elephant species, which was described in 1908 as Elephas hysudrindicus Dubois, it is known from the Pleistocene and should not be mistaken for the recently extinct Javan Elephant.  



[1] Earl of Cranbrook; J. Payne; Charles M. U. Leh: Origin of the elephants Elephas maximus L. of Borneo. Sarawak Museum Journal 2008


edited: 21.01.2020