Ten endangered Borneo pygmy elephants have been found dead in a Malaysian forest in a suspected poisoning.
Fast losing their natural habitat to deforestation and human encroachment, there are estimated to be fewer than 1500 of the baby-faced species remaining.
Post-mortems showed the dead elephants suffered haemorrhages and ulcers in their gastrointestinal tracts, indicating to wildlife officials they had been poisoned.
The carcasses were found over the past three weeks at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve in the eastern tip of Sabah, a Malaysian state on Borneo island.
The director of Sabah Wildlife, Laurentius Ambu, said officials were shocked to find the animals dead or dying after inspecting the area over two days.
"Early this year, two highly decomposed elephant carcasses were found in the general vicinity of where these eight animals were found. We believe that all the deaths of these elephants are related," Mr Ambu said in a statement.
Senior veterinarian Sen Nathan said it was "a very sad sight to see all those dead elephants, especially one of the dead females who had a very young calf about three months old. The calf was trying to wake the dead mother up," he said.
The state's Environment Minister, Masidi Manjun, vowed to take tough action.
"If indeed these poor elephants were maliciously poisoned I would personally make sure that the culprits would be brought to justice and pay for the crime," he said.
"This is a very sad day for conservation and Sabah. The death of these majestic and severely endangered Bornean elephants is a great loss to the state."
The Borneo pygmy elephants are genetically distinct from other Asian elephants. They are smaller than other elephants, growing to less than 2.5 metres, with larger ears, longer tails and straighter tusks.
-Fairfax News Australia