The Beauty of Borneo

I’ve recently watched the Earth’s Tropical Islands programme about Borneo on the BBC. What an astonishing place Borneo is!

Back in November I blogged about Biodiversity, and having watched the documentary about Borneo, the island personifies the definition of Biodiversity. The programme talks about the animals, plants, people and the weather that make Borneo the unique place that it is.

Borneo is about twice the size of Britain and is home to around 60,000 species of plants and animals, the greatest number anywhere in the world. Both plants and animals have adapted to live in their surroundings and have evolved as those surroundings change.

The Proboscis monkeys live in the flooded forest near the coast, and have adapted to eat mainly young leaves and have to travel up to a mile a day in search of this food source. In the documentary you will see how the monkeys cross the crocodile infested rivers to get to more food – amazing! 

Local fisherman have learnt how to hold their breath for up to 3 minutes to enable them to dive for anything they can catch by spear amongst the beautiful coral reef. One fisherman and his son are sadly shown collecting plastic waste from the idyllic beach, but remarkably, they have found a way of using it. By melting the plastic and pouring it into a mould, they can add limbs to it so that it looks like a crab. They then drop it over the side of the boat and catch squid to feed the family. So they have adapted to survive using waste from the ocean. 

The island is home to over 20 gliding reptiles, more than anywhere else in the world. We see the ingenuity of the Sun Bear, native to Borneo, again adapting to its surroundings. And the indigenous people scour the forest floor for food, which is sparse as little sunlight reaches it, and the soil is poor because the huge trees suck the goodness out of it. But they hunt for their food, birds and small mammals, using blowpipes to catch their prey.

And they have a system of communication with each other, leaving stakes in the ground with leaves tied to them, each with a different message, telling each other what is around them. One message we see is to tell each other that they have had a decent kill – a deer, and invite anyone reading the message to join them for food. Maybe we could learn a lesson there.

One group of plants has become carnivorous. They have ingenious ways of attracting insects, then devouring them. They have also formed an alliance with woolly bats, allowing them to take shelter in their stems during the day. When the bats leave at night they have left behind highly nutritious bat droppings which feed the plants. 

Despite all the beauty of the island and everything that lives on it, man has destroyed half of it in the last few years, cutting down the forest to plant oil palm trees. This means that some species have been lost, others are in danger as the competition for habitat is fierce. The orangutan is a well -documented example of this. In the last 20 years half of the orangutan population have been killed – that’s an average of about 100 a week. This is heartbreaking.

We see a female with her baby who was being monitored by the rangers and they noticed she was looking ill and in pain. They were astonished to see her chew a particular leaf, then used the pulp to rub onto her shoulder joints – apparently she had arthritis and this soothed the pain. We could learn a lot from these amazing creatures. 

Many times during the programme we hear about the largest, the highest the most of whatever in the world. Borneo is truly a spectacular place and yet we continue to destroy it – why? Not only is it incredible to see the diverse animals, plants and landscapes, they all play an important part in the local and global ecosystem. We really must stop this madness now and try and reverse the damage already done, otherwise it will be too late and lost forever. 

I urge you to watch the programme; I’ve told you a bit about it here but you need to see it to appreciate the beauty of it and also how delicate it is. I’ll certainly be watching the others in the series. The photography is stunning, the dialog interesting but I know I will be sad to see what we’re doing to destroy it all. 

I don’t know enough about the politics of a situation like this, but I assume that other countries can’t force places like Borneo to stop destroying the habitat. I guess to some degree the oil palm trees provide work for some of the islanders so where there’s profit, companies or governments will exploit. I would like to think that whoever allows the deforestation in Borneo and places like it, can be made to see and understand what they have and why they should stop. A short term gain for a generation now will destroy the future of the island and contribute to the global crisis. I don’t know how we stop it but it needs to happen soon or it will be too late. 

At Reverse Conscious Clothing we regularly donate to projects and we will add the Borneo Nature Foundation to our list of charities. Although our contribution will be miniscule in proportion to the problem, any help would hopefully make a difference. And small steps add up to a giant leap.

If you would like to support the foundation you can do so here.