Thursday, July 02, 2015

Orangutan - “People of the Forest” BORNEO


We never had cable TV when I was growing up, hardly had the TV on for that matter; but when we did watch the tube it was channel 10, PBS. I remember Friday nights were our favorite because that meant Nature was on. This show, as you can probably guess, was all about nature. I am convinced that these shows subconsciously steered my life in the direction it has gone. When I would watch those shows I would set goals that I thought would never happen in my life.

I wanted to stay up all night on a beach, protecting baby sea turtle hatchlings and making sure they got to the ocean safely. I wanted to swim with the oceans largest, most majestic creatures, and feel the presence of a being the size of a bus. I knew I wanted to spend time in the rainforests of Borneo and sit amongst orangutans in one of the few places they consider to be home. I had checked off the first, and partially the second, but Indonesia was calling me for many reasons.

As an environmental geography major, I learned all about the deforestation and overall environmental degradation occurring in many parts of SE Asia. This is actually a huge global issue for many, many reasons. The Borneo rainforest is one of the oldest and most biodiverse rainforests in the entire world. It is home to many endemic species, and unfortunately, many endangered species as well.

The rainforests of Borneo, which includes the countries of Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia, are all being sold off to big business and corporate greed for the sake of cheap oil and expensive timber. They have already cut down millions of hectares of dense rainforest to plant a mono-culture crop, either rubber or palm oil.

This brings about an array of issues; rainforests are considered to be “carbon sinks” which basically means they actually take in carbon, store it, and release oxygen into the air. Without these carbon sinks such as forests and oceans, we would simply run out of air to breath.

Also the slash and burn technique they use to clear this land is one of the largest green house gas emitters each year, so not only are they destroying the natural carbon sink, they are releasing more into the atmosphere. The list of problems with deforestation could go on forever but the one that really gets to me is the loss of habitat to the thousands of species that live there.

I felt that if I didn’t go to Indonesia now, I may never get to see it. So six months after I graduated from college, I took a one way flight to Indonesia by myself to see this beautiful gem of a country before it was too late.

Here is a look into my four days in the rainforest of Kalimantan, Indonesia…

Flying into Kalimantan was the most shocking, yet completely expected, sight I have ever seen. I had read articles and seen the photos of the invasion of palm oil plantations throughout Borneo, Sumatra, and much of the Philippines, but I still could not believe my eyes. The first 5 minutes of flying over the island was stunningly beautiful. As far as you could see was lush, dense, dark green rainforest, tall trees, no buildings.

Suddenly it was gone and a different type of green showed up. The trees were perfectly spaced, all within white lines, forming rectangle after rectangle of the palm oil mono-crop. That view continued until we reached the airport with the exception of a few patches here and there of remaining forest and cloudy rivers. This was proof enough that I needed to visit this place before it disappears.

I boarded the boat in Kumai and headed down the Sekonyer River alongside Tanjung Puting National Park. There was constant entertainment simply while going down the river; staring up at the proboscis monkeys with their cartoon like faces in the high branches, a crocodile cruising in the muddy water, and the most beautiful kingfishers with bright orange, blue and red colors flying by.

My tour guide, Dedy, was a local to the area of Pangklanbun and spent many years of his life working for Tanjung Puting National Park as a park ranger and orangutan care taker. It was obvious that he knew that rainforest inside and out and his passion for biology and the environment was strong. He knew all about the rainforest ecosystem, the history of the park, and had so many stories from when he would trek and camp in the forest for days at a time.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Orangutan - “People of the Forest” BORNEO
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