The numbers are in for the latest tally of Malaysia’s hidden giants, with stunning results. WCS scientists, working with Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) counted 631 endangered Asian elephants living in one of the world’s oldest rainforests. The population may be the largest in Southeast Asia.

The elephants live secretively in Taman Negara National Park, a 1,676 square mile protected area in the center of Peninsular Malaysia. The WCS/DWNP team counted elephant dung piles to estimate their population size—a research technique that produces accurate figures. It was the first scientific population survey for elephants in the park.

Dr. Melvin Gumal, director of WCS-Malaysia, called the park “one of the great strongholds for Asian elephants in Southeast Asia.” Though the size of its elephant population had not been clear, Gumal said it was believed to be substantial.

Taman’s rainforest, which dates back 130 million years, also supports tigers, leopards, dholes, numerous monkey species, and 350 types of birds. The DWNP manages this and other federal protected areas and protects wildlife throughout Peninsular Malaysia.

Asian elephants are endangered due to habitat loss and poaching; between 30,000 and 50,000 may remain in 13 Asian countries. The Wildlife Conservation Society works to protect these elephants throughout their range. This project was partly funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Asian Elephant Conservation Fund. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and its Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants program also provided support.