Most people believe elephants didn’t exist in the Philippines unless they were the ones from Sulu who the Sultan received them as a gift from Java. According to a 1908 account by a Syrian-born American living in the Philippines that says the ruler of Java sent the Sultan of Sulu a small number of elephants in 1395. This account and local belief from Borneo is backed up by British records and historical accounts of elephants arriving in Jolo, the capital of Sulu. The theory now of where the elephants from Borneo came from is that the Sultan actually saved these elephants from extinction by bringing them to Borneo. The elephants of northern Borneo are believed to be the same elephants from Sulu where as those elephants from Sulu went extinct in the 1800’s through hunting.

Alcina has illustrations and discussions on various animals found in the Bisayas and one of these is the elephant. He mentions how bracelets, earrings, and hilts of daggers were made from tusks and how they trapped them in deep pits covered in grass and branches. Sad reality of how hunting for their tusks cause them to be extinct which is a problem still today with both African and Asiatic elephants.


Whether the elephants from Sulu arrived in the Bisayas through trade isn’t really known but the people of the Bisayas and Alcina himself knew of the existence of the elephants whether they personally saw them themselves or heard in passing. Considering Alcina drew an illustration of one in perfect detail, most likely he did see one. It’s interesting to note that in the various languages of the Philippines the word for elephant is found with slight variations of the word. Unfortunately they weren’t actively being bred by officials to keep the population alive and were eventually hunted toward extinction, only surviving now in Borneo. However these elephants now face what their ancestors faced in Java and Sulu and are considered endangered because of lost of habitat and hunting as well.

About The Author

Executive Editor & Founder

Ligaya is the Executive Editor & Writer at She lives in NYC with her two dogs and spends her time reading, writing, collecting and buying books online and in safe haven, Strand Bookstore, watching her guilty tv show pleasure Vikings, and overdosing herself in coffee as a certified caffeine addict. Her book, Diwatahan: A Look Into the Precolonial Beliefs, Practices, Myths, & Folklore of the Philippines, is currently in progress and is scheduled to be published in Summer of 2017.

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