A BLOG FROM BORNEO- Conservation, Community & More

A BLOG FROM BORNEO- Conservation, Community & More

Written by Marlina Moreno

This past summer I spent 2 weeks on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo, in Malaysia to be exact. My time there was part of a graduate course centered in primate conservation and community engagement, a course I chose because of my growing interest in holistic conservation efforts. In our short-time there my fellow students and I got to experience some of Borneo’s greatest offerings in terms of wildlife species and breathtaking landscapes. We also got to see and learn about many of the conservation-centered issues facing the island’s countries. To say the least it was a unique experience to see beyond the region’s typical conservation messages like “Save the Rainforest” and “Stop Palm Oil”.


To remember my Bornean experience I wanted to use this blog post to share a few of my most memorable photos and the stories behind them.


Orangutans have become the poster child of the anti-palm oil movement, and rightfully so. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUNC) approximately 5,000 Bornean orangutans are killed a year as a result (both directly and indirectly) of oil palm production. With approximately 55,000 individuals left in the wild this great ape species is now listed as endangered with its future depending heavily on the protection of its home.


According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNPE) it is estimated that a forest area the size of 300 soccer fields is being destroyed every hour, in Malaysia and Indonesia oil palm plantations are now the leading cause of such rainforest destruction.


This photo was taken at the Sepliok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. It currently houses between 80 and 105 orangutans, which includes 25 young orphans. In this photo a keeper watches gleefully as one of the center’s orangutans relaxingly feeds on sugar cane during afternoon feeding time. For more information visit: http://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk/


Until my time in Borneo I would have considered myself anti-palm oil in every sense, but parts of this course exposed me to a reality I may not have been open-minded enough to listen to before. The truth is palm oil production isn’t going anywhere. In fact these trees will continue to be planted for many years, and likely in greater numbers than what I witnessed. In this process the wildlife I love so much will undoubtably be impacted, but so will the livelihoods of some of the kindest and hardest working people I have ever met.


No story is one sided, and when it comes to conservation issues there is rarely a black and white solution. Compromise is the only choice when it comes to this topic and many of the other conservation-centered issues facing our planet. Working together to find the best solution for all stakeholders (wildlife, locals, international consumers, government, multi-million dollar companies) is the only realistic option at this point, and it’s an unavoidable reality that I never thought I’d be so open-hearted about. During my time in Malaysia I witnessed first-hand how the country’s more than 1.9 billion dollar a year palm oil industry actually has potential to balance out the bad with some good, especially when it comes the economic well-being of developing communities.


During this trip my classmates and I had the opportunity to hear from representatives of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a non-profit that unites stakeholders from the 7 sectors of the palm oil industry: oil palm producers, processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks/investors, and environmental and social non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil. Getting the full-story from the front line helped me realize that sustainable oil palm production is actually a realistic compromise, and the more I educate myself on the issue the more empowered I feel to stand up for those entangled in it who cannot speak for themselves.


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In this picture a man stands proudly in front of his small oil palm farm. Like him many people living in high-producing palm oil regions have limited economic opportunity outside of the controversial industry and therefore rely on it in order to provide for themselves and their families. For more information visit: http://www.rspo.org/


As a HUGE primate fan my trip to Borneo wouldn’t have been complete without taking some time to just sit and watch some of the island’s native primates. While the orangutan was an important species to cross of my bucket-list (I can now say I have seen 3 out of the 4 non-human great apes :)), it was the region’s smaller species that really had me entertained.


In particular this little langur pictured below (also called a silvered leaf monkey) kept me captivated for almost an hour with its cheeky personality.


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While I’d love to just share this picture and gush about how cute he was I would actually be doing this little guy and his family a huge disservice.
In addition to logging & oil palm development the pet trade is one of the biggest threats facing this adorable species and many like it. In order to meet the demand for pet monkeys and tourist entertainment primates are consistently taken from the wild, with their mothers often being killed in the process.


As tourists we can help protect them by choosing wildlife experiences that promote wildlife being wild whenever possible. By avoiding commercial tourist traps that promote feeding, holding or taking pictures with wildlife without proper conservation education attached, as well as shows that force them to perform unnatural behaviors, we can help combat the wildlife pet trade and keep species like this guy safe.


Blog Cover Photo: This photo features a male proboscis monkey during his afternoon feeding time. The endangered proboscis monkey is known for its prominent nose which are larger in males than in females. They’re also endemic to Borneo which means they can only be found on this large southeast Asian island. Sadly, the large-scale habitat destruction that is happening throughout the island is threatening the peaceful existence of this amazingly unique primate.