Last Updated on Friday, 24 August, 2018 06:17:38 PM





Denoting an ambitious conservation programme, the Heart of Borneo encompasses the highlands and adjacent foothills that lie along the borders of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. Ancient forests cover the landscape, making it one of the world's richest sanctuaries for plants and animals; protecting vital water catchments that flow across the world's third largest island.

Borneo is three countries, 746,000 sq km of land area. It is home to 221 species of mammals, 620 species of birds, 15,000 plant species of which 35% are endemic to the area - and over 150 species of dipterocarp trees. In each tree sits 1,000 or so species of insects. And that's just a conservative estimate. Many new species are still being found. New discoveries make up a total of 360 new species found over the past ten years in Borneo alone. That's an astonishing three discoveries a month!

In 2013,  a resorded 1,639 logs currt down for a geothermal plant project site located in Tawau Hills Park........ the state of Sabah had received some RM340,000 in royalties from the timber extracted from the area......

But here's the catch. Over the years, many of Borneo's forests have been fragmented and cleared to sell timber and create plantations. Logging has become the way of life for some of the local communities. In some parts of the island, timber is being extracted from wherever possible. People need income to survive, and where there are no alternatives, the selling of timber provides for immediate needs. Timber has also played an important role in national economies in the past, with inevitable impacts on the natural environment.

New logging roads provide easy access to otherwise inaccessible forests both for traditional and modern-day hunters who sell their harvests downriver. They take from the forests on a much larger scale than the resident communities who hunt for survival. Threats to Borneo's rich, wildlife denizens are imminent and real.

WWF is working with the Bornean governments and other partners to conserve a large enough area of forest for much of it to remain in a pristine state. The Heart of Borneo needs a network of totally protected areas, surrounded and linked by a buffer zone of forested land that is sustainable managed for human use. Dato' Dr Mikaail Kavanagh, WWF-Malaysia's Executive Director, explains, "Small patches of fragmented forests cannot maintain their full array of plant and animal species in the long-term. The Heart of Borneo is the only place on the planet where we can save a really large area of Southeast Asia's magnificent rainforests."

Human pressures create a domino effect on the Borneo forests that we may not be able to see immediately. But the effects of forest degradation leak into the main rivers of Borneo: the Kinabatangan in Sabah, the Rajang and Baram in Sarawak, the Belait in Brunei, and the Mahakam, Kapuas and Barito in East, West, and Central Kalimantan respectively. These are the rivers that supply plentiful clean water to many of Borneo's diverse communities.

The forests also act as a firebreak, mitigating the huge fires that have ravaged Borneo in recent years. Undisturbed, primary rainforests hardly ever burn on a big scale. Yet Borneo's yearly recurring fires already pose a threat to human health and hurt national economies. The Heart of Borneo has to be saved for this reason alone.

According to Dr. Rahimatsah Amat, National Coordinator for the Heart of Borneo, "The Heart of Borneo is one of only two places on earth where orang-utans, elephants and rhinos co-exist." These beautiful creatures - and many others - are under threat of extinction if we do not act fast to save their forest homes.

The Heart of Borneo will not only protect the island's endemic wildlife, but also present a unique opportunity to conserve pristine tropical rainforest on a huge scale. However, conserving more than 220,000 sq km of land is no easy task. Firstly because the area straddles three countries: Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. Secondly, because it is necessary to grapple with issues concerning intensive logging and land conversion. The future of this Tran boundary area depends on getting all three governments in sync on a host of detailed matters.

But the future of the Heart of Borneo looks promising. At the recent 11th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, the importance of the project was highlighted in the Chairman's Statement, which was the official record of the meeting and is endorsed by the Heads of all he governments present. Para 23 of the Statement focused specifically on the establishment of this Tran boundary network of sanctuaries that would protect the biological diversity of plants and animals and all of the island's major water catchments.

This is a significant milestone in the Heart of Borneo project.

Responding to this latest development, WWF-Malaysia's President, Tan Sri Razali Ismail, said, "We share with others a vision for the Heart of Borneo in which investments and partnerships at all levels serve to ensure the effective management of a sustainable landscape, based on a network of protected areas, productive forests and other sustainable land-uses." He also pointed out that this has to be a major undertaking, involving technical and financial partnerships in the international community, including not only governments but also NGOs, and international aid agencies, adding that "WWF is actively encouraging private sector investment in sustainable, environmentally -friendly endeavors that will benefit Borneo in the long-term."

Clearly, the Heart of Borneo is a major undertaking that requires high-level commitments and actions to match them. March 2006 will see the project's next critical stage. The Heart of Borneo is undoubtedly one of the most important centers of biodiversity globally. Losing it would be an unacceptable tragedy not only for Borneo and its people, but also for the world. It really is now or never.

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