Borneo's Unique Wildlife at Risk of Illegal Trade, Logging

JAKARTA, Indonesia, April 29, 2005 (ENS) - The habitat of endangered species such as orangutans and pygmy elephants on Borneo – the world's third largest island - is in jeopardy, warns a new report by the global conservation organization WWF. Large areas of Borneo's forest are increasingly being cleared for rubber, oil palm and pulp production, while thousands of species as yet unknown to science are being lost.

There are many plant and animal species that are still undiscovered, WWF says, judging by the 361 new species that were identified and described on the island between 1994 and 2004.

The report, "Borneo’s Lost World," says in the past ten years, scientists have found 260 new insect species, 50 plants, 30 freshwater fish, seven frog species, six lizards, five crabs, two new snakes and a new species of toad.

The report suggests that thousands more have not yet been studied, particularly in the 22 million hectare inner region, which is relatively inaccessible and is covered by some of the most pristine forests left on the island.

Borneo is one of only two places on Earth – the other is the island of Sumatra – where endangered species such as orangutans, elephants and rhinos co-exist.

Other threatened wildlife living in Borneo include the clouded leopard, the sun bear and endemic Bornean gibbons.

langur

Silver langur Bako, Borneo. The habitat for primates and other animals in Borneo is shrinking. (Photo courtesy Sarawak Tourism)
The island is also inhabited by 10 known primate species, over 350 bird species, 150 reptiles and amphibians, and 15,000 different species of plants.

But illegal trade in exotic animals is on the rise, as logging trails and cleared forest open access to more remote areas, the WWF report warns.

Since 1996, deforestation in the whole of Indonesia has increased to an average of two million hectares per year – an area about half the size of the Netherlands – a rate WWF predicts will rise due to pressure from a growing domestic population and the needs of international markets.

To combat illegal logging and the exotic animal trade, WWF aims to assist Borneo’s three nations - Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia - to conserve the area known as the Heart of Borneo - a total of 220,000 sqare kilometers of equatorial rainforest

The conservation effort is focused on creating a network of protected areas and sustainably managed forests through international cooperation led by the Bornean governments and supported by a global effort.

"Borneo is undoubtedly one of the most important centers of biodiversity in the world," said Dr. Mubariq Ahmad, executive director of WWF-Indonesia. "By acting now, we can ensure that the heart of Borneo remains a haven for both well-known and newly discovered species."

Protection of the Heart of Borneo would not only benefit wildlife, the global conservation organization stresses. It would also help alleviate poverty by increasing water and food security, and cultural survival for the people of Borneo.

In the long term, it will save the island from the ultimate threat of deforestation and increased impacts from droughts and fires.

"The alternative, losing the heart of Borneo, would be an unacceptable tragedy not only for Borneo, but also for all of Asia, and the rest of the globe. It is really now or never," said WWF's Stuart Chapman international coordinator for the Heart of Borneo Initiative.