Young adult female Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) called Walima, hanging from a tree, Borneo, ... / ©: naturepl.com / Tim Laman / WWF-Canon

The Heart of Borneo: Asia’s last great rainforest

On a map of Southeast Asia, the island of Borneo – the third largest in the world - stands out as an imposing mass in the middle of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago.

Still swathed in extensive tropical rainforests and inhabited by endangered animals such as orang-utans and pygmy elephants and critically endangered rhinos, the island continues to reveal new biodiversity wonders as more species are constantly discovered.


A shared asset between Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia

Borneo is divided between Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia. Their shared responsibility to manage the island’s central highland rainforests – the Heart of Borneo – has led to an ambitious transboundary conservation initiative.

A mosaic of landscapes


Although Borneo conjures images of dense tropical rainforests, the landscape offers a mosaic of varied habitats: mangroves, peat swamp and swamp forests, ironwood, heath and montane forests. These areas form part of a complex ecosystem that has evolved over thousands of years.
Massive rivers cut across the landscape, weaving their way through Borneo’s central range. These are the island’s lifelines, offering transport and communication but also providing the freshwater needs of river communities.



A TREASURE TROVE WORTH SAVING

© Terry Domico / WWF-Canon

There are few other places on Earth where you can see large, animals such as orang-utans, elephants, clouded leopards, sun bears and rhinos in the wild.

Borneo has lured scientists for over 150 years, and has played a key role in the theory of evolution.

There are thousands of other animal and plant species and many species yet to be discovered.

THE HUMAN HEART OF BORNEO

© WWF-Indonesia / Jimmy Syahirsyah

Mirroring the island’s natural diversity and the tides of change that have swept through over the centuries, Borneo’s people are a mosaic of culturally distinct indigenous groups scattered across the landscape as well as more recent Malay inhabitants.

Some, like the Penan, are nomadic hunter-gatherers while the majority of indigenous inhabitants are settled and cultivate rice through shifting techniques (dry swiddens) and paddies (wet rice cultivation).

THREATS TO BORNEO FORESTS

Beyond the intrinsic values of the Heart of Borneo, there are many other reasons to protect this area

© David Gilbert / Rainforest Action Network

Forestry
Over one quarter of the Heart of Borneo is covered by logging and plantation concessions. Forests inside these concessions can be logged according to national sustainability certification standards. These concessions can provide a sustainable source of timber while bring employment opportunities and revenue for district and provincial governments.

Water catchment

Well-managed natural forests provide high-quality drinking water to urban and rural populations. With 14 of Borneo’s 20 major rivers beginning their journey from the Heart of Borneo, the area is a source of clean freshwater for people, industry and wildlife.

Fires
Borneo’s natural forests are not usually prone to fires if left undisturbed. However as forests are cleared or logged, they dry out and become susceptible to fires. Large-scale fires in Borneo have serious impacts on human health across the Region, as well as having a severe impact on natural habitats. The Heart of Borneo’s forests need to be properly managed so that fires are avoided or prevented from running out of control.

Oil palm plantations

Malaysia and Indonesia account for over 85 per cent of the global palm oil supply.

As palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil, the demand for this commodity as a source of food and energy is expected to rise rapidly. The demand for food alone is expected to double in the next decade, and the Indonesian Government has responded by setting a target to increase oil palm production from 20 million tonnes in 2009 to 40 million tonnes in 2020. If not properly managed, the demand for palm oil could lead to widespread clearing in the Heart of Borneo. Fortunately, ample already-cleared land is available in Borneo for new palm oil development, and there are good opportunities to intensify production on existing plantations.


WWF'S SOLUTIONS FOR THE HEART OF BORNEO

The fate of 220,000 km² of equatorial rainforest is at stake

© Laurent Desarnaud / WWF-Aus

WWF is aiming for a network of protected areas and sustainably-managed forests in the Heart of Borneo, to be achieved through international co-operation led by the Bornean governments, supported by a global effort.

The future of this transboundary area depends on the collaboration of all three governments. No one country can protect these unique uplands alone.

Together this presents a unique opportunity to conserve pristine tropical rainforest on a huge scale; saving almost 30% of the forest on the world’s third largest island.

What you can do

HoB is home to an astounding six per cent of the world’s biodiversity, inclusing more than 350 ... / ©: Tim Cronin / CIFOR

How to help us save Borneo's Forests:

 
- Support responsible forest management
Buy FSC paper and timber products:
Wood with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label is proof that a product has been responsibly grown and harvested.

Buy products from companies that have committed to certified sustainable palm oil and look for the RSPO trademark on products.

Go on an ecotourism adventure in the Heart of Borneo
Ecotourism in the Heart of Borneo offers a pathway to a more sustainable future for local communities. It provides an alternative way to generate income for communities while protecting the natural environment.

- Buy ‘Green & Fair Products’
From handicrafts to food, a range of products are available that are responsibly and traditionally produced in the Heart of Borneo.


What you can do

Life on Earth is not evenly spread around our planet. Borneo – the world's third largest island - is one of its richest treasure-houses, full of an immense variety of wild animals and plants, all living in a magnificent tropical forest.

A vast area of this forest still cloaks the mountains, foothills and adjacent lowlands that stretch along the borders of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

This is the Heart of Borneo and all of us who value life on this planet should support the efforts of these countries to conserve it. It is truly a world heritage and the world should respond to its needs...

Sir David Attenborough