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  • Writer's pictureDr Mark J Tenenbaum

Why Beat the Drum for Borneo?

Why do I beat the drum for Borneo?

Borneo is a perfect representation of the internal conflict within economically developing countries with an immensely diverse ecosystem and wildlife population. The conflict of developing the quality of human life without sacrificing the natural beauty.

Borneo is a hub of biodiversity and its wildlife is incredibly unique. Of the 220 mammalian species found on the island of Borneo, 44 of these are found nowhere else in the world. The birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish all paint a similar picture of a very unique wilderness, and a truly beautiful example of evolution and biological adaptation.

The Bornean Flat-headed frog which is the first discovered lungless frog in the world Photograph by David Bickford (WWF - Borneo's New World)

A lot of us relate to the natural world through the man that brought it to our living rooms, Sir David Attenborough. Of Borneo, he had this to say:

Life on Earth is not evenly spread around our planet. Borneo – the world’s third largest island – is one of its richest treasure houses, full of an immense variety of wild animals and plants, all living in a magnificent tropical forest.” ​​

Sir David Attenborough sharing his wisdom from Borneo - Photograph by Adam Scott

Take the proboscis monkey for example, one of the largest monkey species in the world, and one of the best swimmers of the primates, an adaptation to its coastal and river-side distribution.

The males possess a large nose which is thought to amplify the call the proboscis monkey makes, making them more attractive to female monkeys. Another iconic characteristic of the proboscis monkey is a permanent pot belly, another trait of sexual selection.

It’s ironic to think that the ‘most attractive’ proboscis monkey resembles an unattractive old man that spends too much time at the pub! ​​

A proboscis monkey in the wild of Borneo - Photograph by Dom Kelundek (facilitator at Orangutan Project and wildlife photographer)

Borneo accounts for just 1% of the world’s land, yet holds over 6% of the world's biodiversity within its unique mountainous and lowland rainforests. It has been described as the centre of evolution for many different species of plants and animals.

Between 1995 and 2010, over 600 species of animal have been discovered – that’s three new species every month! ​​

A Belalong tree frog which was first discovered in 2008 - Photograph by Max Dehling (WWF - Borneo's New World)

The immense responsibility of protecting such a biological hotspot has been recognised by the three governments in Borneo, with a joint declaration by the governments of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia in 2007 to conserve the biodiversity of the Heart of Borneo.

The Heart of Borneo region, which spans 23.4 million hectares, encompasses approximately one third of Borneo and contains possibly the largest remaining forest in Southeast Asia.

A map of the Heart of Borneo region - WWF

Many NGO’s have acted to support the governments in preserving these lands, but unfortunately the deforestation and habitat loss in this region - which WWF holds at the highest conservation priority - is still occurring at an unsustainable rate.

The Heart of Borneo will be discussed extensively in the next blog, however at this rate, the total forest cover of Borneo is expected to drop to as low as 24% by 2020. WWF also made projections for 2020 with conservative interventions and found: to preserve at least 50% of the lowland forest, annual deforestation needs to be less than 0.8%

To preserve at least 80% of upland rainforests, annual deforestation needs to fall to below 0.15% From the report WWF produced in 2014, annual deforestation rates within the high conservation priority of the Heart of Borneo region was 2.19%.

For the whole of Borneo, the annual loss of forest cover was 4.68%. ​​

A map of forest cover loss, and predicted cover in 2020 (dark green being the only remaining forest) - WWF

This is a forest very quickly rushing to desolation.

To again quote Sir David Attenborough:

"This is the Heart of Borneo and all of us who value life on this planet should support the efforts of these countries to conserve it. It is truly a world heritage and the world should respond to its needs."


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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