World Wildlife Day: The Heart of Borneo

3rd March 2018

The state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo falls within the area known as the Heart of Borneo. The area is a tri-lateral agreement between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei to protect and restore forest connectivity by conserving one of the largest intact transboundary rainforests remaining in the world. It covers an area the size of England and Scotland put together. The Heart of Borneo is bursting with tropical rainforests and with ideal climate conditions for a wide variety of species to thrive. It is also a source of life and livelihoods by providing ecosystem services for 11 million Borneans, including a million forest-dwelling indigenous Dayaks Borneo’s biological diversity rivals that of Africa and may well have the highest plant diversity of any region on Earth! To compare, it is estimated that Borneo has 10 times the plant diversity of the Netherlands.

The Heart of Borneo’s diverse ecosystem holds the largest potential for new discoveries with many areas remaining unexplored due to their isolation and remoteness. These hard to reach places are thought to harbour unique and rich selections of species from Asian and Australasian families making these habitats some of the most diverse on Earth. In fact between 1995 and 2010 more than 600 new species were discovered in Borneo – that is on average three per month!

Did you know Borneo’s diversity has played a key role in the discovery of evolution? Scientists and researchers have been lured to the island of Borneo for over 150 years. In the 19th Century Alfred Wallace’s travels on the island inspired his theories of natural selection.

Raleigh Borneo Natural Resource Management Projects

Sabah has experienced rapid economic growth over the last 30 years relying heavily on its forest resources to finance its socio-economic development. This has resulted in a 50% loss to the total coverage of forest area. During the 1980s and 1990s the forests of Borneo underwent a dramatic transition. Land was burned, logged and cleared, and commonly replaced with agricultural land or palm oil plantations. This resulted in the loss and degradation of much of the biodiversity in the forest landscape. The creation of palm oil plantations, now covering about 19% of total land area in Sabah, represents a monoculture that has also served to alter natural habitats, affect water courses and reduce the biodiversity of the landscape.

In response to these pressures, a number of strategies are now being implemented in Sabah. These include goals around the conservation of forests and biodiversity, connecting conservation areas, implement a range of sustainable initiatives based around natural resources and to support sustainable production of palm oil in Sabah.

The approach is very much one of ensuring the conservation of Sabah’s remarkable biodiversity within a well-managed network of protected areas along with supporting conservation, sustainable livelihoods and the integrated management of natural resources across the wider landscape of Sabah.

Volunteers measure and log the progress of replanted saplings.

For 31 years Raleigh Borneo, alongside our project partners, has been working in line with these goals to support the effort to protect and sustain forests and biodiversity in The Heart of Borneo. Raleigh Borneo has worked in numerous areas of land including Imbak Canyon, Danum Valley and Maliau Basin.

The Natural Resource Management projects we undertake all contribute towards Global Goals number 12 (responsible consumption and production), number 13 (climate action) and number 14 (life on land). Through our projects we also hope to inspire a generation of champions of the natural environment.

This expedition Raleigh Borneo volunteers are currently working in Danum Valley and will later be working with the Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Centre. Danum Valley is home to a variety of animals including globally significant species such as the Orang-utan, Proboscis monkey, Malayan Sun bear, Banteng, Sumatran rhino, Borneo Pygmy elephant and Sunda Clouded leopard. As part of ongoing projects in Danum Valley our primary aim is to continue construction of a suspension bridge to allow better access to the primary rainforest to scientists, researchers and tourists. The secondary aim is to undertake a phenology and enumeration study of a shell planting area to identify tree growth and dieback, and replanting tree species. Additionally, the volunteers will be setting camera traps to identify and monitor the species of wildlife in certain areas of the conservation area.

The overall impact of increasing access for researchers and tourists is to help Danum Valley apply for UNESCO World Heritage Status, bestowing this vital ecosystem with a greater level of protection. With the area protected from the pressures of land conversion, we hope it will remain a healthy and vibrant habitat for all of its occupants to enjoy for generations to come.

The team of volunteers in Danum Valley for the first part of the Spring projects.
(Back row left to right) Jen C, Jason, Carla, Freddie, Oli, Matt, Mark
(Front row left to right) Ivy, Nav, Iqmal, Jasmine.

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Words by Rebecca Raab.

Climate and Conservation Malaysian Borneo