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  • Writer's pictureDr Mark J Tenenbaum

The Heart of Borneo

Updated: Jan 20, 2019

The Heart of Borneo is the beating hub of the extraordinary rainforests of Borneo. The region represents the land that the government treaty signed by Malaysian, Indonesian and Brunei has committed to the highest preservation priority.

Read more about the immense biodiversity found in this region in the previous blog: "Why beat the drum for Borneo"

Heart of Borneo Map - WWF


Industrialisation of Borneo - Damage done and more to come

The joint government declaration included targets for minimising deforestation and preventing industrialisation of one of the largest remaining rainforests in South East Asia. In WWF’s 2014 Heart of Borneo - Environmental Status Report, they found that deforestation for the whole of Borneo was 4.68% annually, and even within the Heart of Borneo was 2.19%. Consequently, there was a decrease in distribution of many key species such as the Bornean elephant and the iconic orangutan. WWF listed the key drivers of deforestation as industrial conversion in to oil palm and timber plantations. ​​

The Borneon Pygmy Elephant Photograph from Hutan Conservation Project

In fact, within the Heart of Borneo conservation area, over a million hectares are occupied by palm oil plantations, with a further 330,000 hectares allocated as concessions for plantation expansion. Another half a million hectares are occupied by timber plantations. Nearly 5 million hectares also fall inside active logging concessions, with plans to expand this further. Logging concessions inside of this supposedly highly protected region make up 31% of the designated land. A further 2 million hectares in the Heart of Borneo is allocated for mining.

​​Logging of ancient rainforests in Borneo Photograph by Matthias Klum - National Geographic

To simplify the maths, over 8.5 million hectares of the 23.4 million hectares of the land designated the highest conservation priority has been industrialised or will be in the coming years. Obviously this is a complicated political issue with a lot of influence from larger corporations, however it is of the utmost importance that we see this treaty honoured.

Palm oil is a very profitable harvest, and unfortunately in a conflict of interest, the Indonesian government committed to doubling its palm oil production from 2009 of 20 million tonnes, to 40 million tonnes in 2020.


Upholding the treaty

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a not-for-profit organisation that unites stakeholders from various sectors of the palm-oil industry including producers, processors, goods manufacturers, and both social and environmental NGO’s, with the goal of developing and implementing global standards for the palm oil industry. ​​

The supply chain of palm oil - illustrating the many stakeholders involved in production - RSPO

The RSPO have developed a set of social and environmental criteria that companies must comply with to be Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) producers. The idea for an RSPO was conceived by WWF in 2001, and was properly launched in 2011. It has gained more traction with consumers in recent years, as labelling is gradually introduced in to our supermarkets.

The logo to look for - RSPO

Unfortunately, many products in Australian supermarkets still label palm oil as vegetable oil, hiding from the responsibility of using sustainably sourced palm oil. You can read more about the certification process and search the RSPO website for groups that are CSPO producers here. ​​

The supply chain with certified sustainably sourced palm oil - RSPO


How you can help

Zoos Victoria are currently running a campaign "Don't Palm Us Off" for mandated clear labelling of palm oil within Australia. This allows consumers such as yourself, to make active conscious decisions to purchase products that either contain alternatives to palm oil; or contain sustainably sourced palm oil.

According to Zoos Victoria, palm oil is found in up to 50% of products in Australian supermarkets, yet we are completely unaware of it.

Don't Palm Us Off - A Zoos Victoria initiative for clear labelling of palm oil

This petition will create a market for sustainable palm oil. You can read Zoos Victoria's view on CSPO products and shifting consumer pressure to sustainable sources here.

The petition has since closed, but yet again the state ministers have delayed action on this decision. Zoos Victoria is asking you to contact your state minister to prompt action in an important environmental cause.


This series of blogs will discuss the challenges facing the wildlife of Borneo, what conservation efforts are being made, and what more we can do individually to have a positive impact.

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