At the beginning of June I spent two weeks travelling through Borneo, Malaysia, as part of an organised tour.
While trekking through rainforests, hiking up mountains and spotting/photographing a variety of animals in their wild habitat were all wonderful parts of the tour, the main reason I signed up was to learn more about and see firsthand the deforestation and palm oil plantations in Borneo.
And that I did.
Looking out my window on a two-hour bus trip from Sabah to Sandakan, I saw nothing but destroyed forests and palm oil plantations. It was like a never-ending nightmare.
For those who don't know, palm oil is a type of vegetable oil derived from palm fruit, which grows on oil palm trees. Fifty million tons of palm oil is produced annually, supplying over 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production. It is a cheap commodity and is used in thousands of edible and non-edible products distributed worldwide.
Malaysia and Indonesia account for more than 85 per cent of the world's total oil palm production area. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the importance of these countries for this product is likely to increase in the future as the demand for palm oil soars. This means more forest destruction and land clearing for new plantations.
As I witnessed firsthand during my time in Borneo, deforestation (for palm oil plantations as well as illegal logging and timber plantations) has extremely serious impacts on the environment, the local people and the native animals.
WWF suggests that if deforestation in Borneo was to continue at its current rate, the island will be severely affected by climate change due to the increased risk of floods and forest fires, changes in agriculture and damage to infrastructure.
This, in turn, will cause losses in tourism and forfeited timber revenue as well as devastating impacts on human health and the loss of many native animal species.
Land “clearing” (I prefer to call it “destroying”) not only ruins the homes of hundreds of animal species and eliminates their food supply, but it also increases their chances of being caught by poachers and wildlife smugglers who either kill them for body parts, use them for medicinal purposes or sell them as pets.
Orangutans, sun bears, tigers and elephants are some of the larger species affected.
“The fate of Sumatran orangutans is inextricably linked to the islands fast-disappearing forests. If we want to save the Sumatran orangutan we have to save their forest home." - Dr. Barney Long, Asian Species Expert
There are a number of wonderful rehabilitation and conservation centres in Malaysia/Indonesia, where people are working to rescue and rehabilitate animals impacted by deforestation. The ones I visited during my time in Borneo are: Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary and the Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
Unfortunately, as great as these organisations are, they are not enough.
If we want to really make an effort to save these beautiful creatures from extinction and save our climate from drastically changing, we need to speak up now, before it’s too late.
WWF suggests a few ways you can help save Borneo’s forests: http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/borneo_forests/saveborneorainforest/
More information on palm oil and its impacts on the environment, people and animals: http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/Whats_the_issue.php