The Story of Borneo Elephant Chendra

Asian elephant Chendra in the North Meadow habitat, part of Elephant Lands at the Oregon Zoo. © Oregon Zoo / photo by Michael Durham.

From our friends at Oregon Zoo

Asian elephants are under serious threat of extinction in their native range countries—and in Borneo, the situation is especially dire.

The Oregon Zoo has long supported organizations working to protect Borneo’s wildlife and has developed a number of conservation connections in Sabah, Malaysia. The zoo is currently funding two full-time elephant ranger positions with the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit and is also partnering on several projects to create wildlife corridor habitat and reduce human-elephant conflict.

The entire population of Borneo elephants has been reduced to around 2,000 in the wild, where deforestation—largely driven by logging and palm oil production—threatens their survival. Agricultural workers sometimes kill or injure elephants that raid their plantations, and the clashes can also separate calves from their herds. In the past few years, the Sabah Wildlife Department has rescued 15 baby elephants, each less than a year old. All of them were found wandering alone in known human-elephant conflict areas along the east coast of Sabah.

Chendra was orphaned this way.

Borneo elephant Chendra eats bamboo in the Elephant Lands habitat at the Oregon Zoo. ©Oregon Zoo / photo by Kathy Street

She was found wandering—orphaned, alone, and hungry—near a palm oil plantation. She had wounds on her front legs and her left eye, and she ultimately became blind in that eye. Because Chendra was young, she could not be reunited with her herd or released back into the wild. Malaysian wildlife officials worked to find a home, and she was brought to the Oregon Zoo to join the elephant family on Nov. 20, 1999.

The effects of Chendra’s traumatic early years can still be seen. The shotgun blast that left her blind in one eye—plus weeks spent tethered to a tree before her rescue by wildlife officials—is behind her occasional “circle walking,” a habit formed out of a simple need to see what’s going on around her.

But Chendra has found both a safe haven and a family here at the Oregon Zoo, and she played a critical role as “auntie” to elephants Samudra and Lily when they were calves.

Chendra, Rose-Tu and Samudra in the Elephant Lands Pool at the Oregon Zoo. ©Oregon Zoo / photo by Kathy Street

Elephants like Chendra, as well as other species like orangutans, tigers, and chimpanzees, are threatened by unsustainable palm oil production. You and your family can help by seeking out sustainable palm oil as a consumer—check out the Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping app for more.

You can also come see Chendra and her family at the Oregon Zoo, open every day from 9:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.

Scroll to Top