Posted March 31st
To wind up our ‘mini-series’ on the wonders of Borneo, we wanted to say something about the wildlife. As with the Amazon jungle & the equitorial rain forests of central & western Africa, here also deforestation is a very major environmental issue.Since palm oil was introduced in the area, it’s become a very profitable cash crop & so every year, more & more forest is cleared to make way for yet more palm oil plantations. Borneo is home to an amazing variety of wildlife but their habitats have gradually been reduced more & more until there are now only a few national parks, plus a narrow corridor a few kilometres wide, along the Kinabatang river. We stayed a few days in the area & were delighted to see wild orang utangs, whole trees full of rare proboscis monkeys & of course many macaques & hornbills. However, even this supposedly protected corridor is gradually being eroded & has disappeared in places.
To add to the false impression that all is well, Sabah has a number of wildlife sanctuaries that are show-cased as solid evidence that major efforts are being undertaken to save Borneo’s precious wildlife. One is the proboscis monkey park at Lebuh Bay that has an abundance of these special, long-nosed creatures. While great credit is given to the owners for their green credentials, we were told that the inside story is a little different: the 2 brothers that own the surrounding palm oil plantation discovered by accident that they had a whole troop of proboscis monkeys on their land. Sensing that there might be some money to be made, they decided to turn it into a tourist attraction. Foreign aid & good publicity, along with a steep entrance fee, turned it into a highly profitable venture!
Another show-cased success story is the orang utang rehabilitation centre at Sepilok: a place for orphaned orang utangs whose parents have been killed by poachers or who have been rescued from cages where they were kept as pets. The aim is to try to restore them to full health & once they reach adulthood, to release them back into the jungle. The project has had some successes but also many apes that have become totally dependent on food handouts, a bit like social welfare addicts in western countries! They’ve also become somewhat aggressive with tourists: stealing food, water bottles & even cameras—the chief warden told us that over the years, these re-offending juveniles have stolen a total of 55 cameras & not one of them has been recovered!
During our stay, we had a close encounter at Sepilok’s Rainforest Discovery Centre, when we found ourselves on a canopy walkway with no exit & an orang utang approaching us. There was no option other than to keep cameras & water bottles out of sight, & then to keep still & hope that he would pass. Luckily, the orang utang passed by without incident while tourists at the other end of the canopy walk took photos of the encounter & later emailed them to us, (see below).
In closing we’d like to say that while we’re happy that some orang utangs & some proboscis monkeys are being cared for, the real solution for guaranteeing the survival of Borneo’s wildlife is to have the political courage to say ‘enough is enough’ to the palm oil plantation owners & then to have rangers that can regularly inspect & enforce the rules……