Borneo Pygmy Elephant A pygmy elephant calf walks next to its dead mother in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve in the Malaysia's Borneo island Photo: Reuters

Ten rare Borneo pygmy elephants were found dead in a Malaysian reserve forest and officials suspect they were poisoned, wildlife department officials said Tuesday.

The carcasses of the 10 Borneo pygmy elephants were found near each other at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve in Malaysia's Sabah state on the island of Borneo over a period of three weeks. Authorities have said they do not suspect poachers because the tusks of the elephants were found intact and there were no gunshot wounds on the bodies.

According to wildlife officials, all the dead pygmy elephants belonged to the same family. A postmortem revealed that they suffered severe gastrointestinal haemorrhages and ulcers. The seven female and three male victims were aged between four and 20.

Officials found four bodies last week and another four two days later. Two highly decomposed bodies were found earlier this month.

  Borneo Pygmy Elephant Malaysia's wildlife officials inspects the dead pygmy elephant in Gunung Rara Forest Reserve in the Malaysia's Borneo island Photo: Reuters

In one instance, officials rescued a three-month-old calf who was trying desperately to wake her dead mother.  

"It was actually a very sad sight to see all those dead elephants, especially one of the dead females who had a very young calf of about three months old. The calf was trying to wake the dead mother up," said Laurentius Ambu, Sabah's wildlife department director.

Masidi Manjun, Sabah’s environment minister, vowed to take tough action against the culprits.

"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," he said in the statement.

Borneo pygmy elephants are an endangered species and their population has declined by over 50 percent in the last 75 years. The World Wildlife Fund group estimates that a fewer than 1,500 Borneo pygmy elephants exist in the world. As their name suggests, pygmy elephants are smaller and less aggressive than other Asian elephants. The animals have a babyish face and big ears. Male pygmy elephants grow less than 2.5 meters in height compared to their other Asian counterparts which grow up to three meters.

The existence of these rare species is threatened by the loss of their habitat and feeding grounds. Increased logging and encroachment by human development into their territory has escalated conflicts between Borneo pygmy elephants and humans. Elephants can destroy crops and fenclines during their group foraging, which raises tensions with farmers and landowners.