Borneo’s fabled forests and incomparable wildlife face daunting threats, but the creation of a major new protected area in the heart of the island, the Kuamut Forest Reserve, is a huge victory not only for the world’s threatened wildlife – but it’s also a meaningful way to fight climate change.
The rainforest of Borneo is 140 million years old, one of the world’s oldest. Nearly 170,000 acres of the island’s Danum Valley will be protected from the intentional fires that have destroyed much of Indonesia’s rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations. These fires, in addition to destroying the world’s old growth forests, have contributed significantly to global warming.
Between July and November of 2015, NASA satellites detected more than 130,000 fires raging across the 3,000-mile length of the Southeast Asian archipelago of Indonesia. Fires during these few months emitted more carbon dioxide than the United States in a year. In just three weeks, more CO2 was released than the combined annual emissions of Germany and the UK.
Finding a Solution Through Conservation
But every acre of rainforest that can be saved – like the approximately 170,000 acres in the Danum Valley – are a critical part of the solution to global warming, as the trees store enormous quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2). Yet when they’re burned – to clear land for palm oil plantations – they add significantly to global warming as these trees release their vast storehouse of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Of course, like intact rainforest everywhere, the Danum Valley of Borneo is a critical refuge for rare, threatened wildlife. Shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, Borneo has some of the Earth’s oldest and most biodiverse rainforest. It supports thousands of species found nowhere else and contains a staggering 15,000 flowering plants, 221 terrestrial mammals, and 420 bird species. Accounting for one percent of the world’s landmass, Borneo’s rainforests hold approximately six percent of the earth’s biodiversity.
Dense rainforest carpeted nearly the entire island until the latter part of the 20th century. However, the last several decades have seen industrial logging decimate much of its forest. And the rapid spread of palm oil plantations has further exacerbated the danger posed to wildlife and extended the threat of extinction to hundreds of species as forests continue to be burned to make way for these plantations. Ninety percent of orangutan populations (which exist only in Borneo and Sumatra) have been destroyed in just the last twenty years.
How We’re Helping
Working with local conservation partners, Rainforest Trust was able to convert a 168,032-acre logging concession into a permanent sanctuary for wildlife in December 2015. The new protected area – nearly four times the size of the District of Columbia – strategically links two of the most important reserves in Asia: the Maliau Basin and Danum Valley. One of the most critical stretches of lowland rainforest remaining on the island, it is inhabited by the critically endangered Bornean Pygmy Elephant. Numbering fewer than 1,000 individuals, the world’s smallest elephant has only been studied during the last decade. It remains one of the least understood elephant species on earth.
In addition to the endangered Bornean Orangutan, the rare, spectacular fauna which will now be protected include the Bornean Gibbon, Sun Bear, Clouded Leopard, and Bearded Pig.
Aside from the irreplaceable animal species, there are countless undiscovered plants in the Danum Valley. Seventy percent of the world’s cancer-fighting medicines come from the rainforest, and plants in the area could be the key to new life-saving treatments, not only for cancer but also for other deadly diseases – but only if rainforest is protected and scientists have the opportunity to discover and study its botanical treasures.
Transforming a concession – an area that has been marked for development, exploitation and destruction – into a permanently protected area like the Danum Valley of Borneo – serves as a model and inspiration for successful rainforest conservation around the world.
To learn more about rainforest conservation and the work of Rainforest Trust, please visit us here.
Image source: Flickr