Monday, July 13, 2015

Swing states: Borneo

Malaysian Borneo offers the chance to see orang-utans in their natural — and vulnerable — habitat.

When the Queen first toured South-East Asia in 1971, the party sailed from Malaysia to Sarawak and Sabah, the Malaysian states which form about a third of the island of Borneo. In Sabah they were greeted by members of the formerly fearsome Murat tribe, standing guard with their impressive six-foot-long blowpipes.

It was, according to those who witnessed it, a rare moment when an ancient, unseen world came face to face with what was then the modern.

Back then, going to Borneo was the domain of the adventurer (as well as heads of state) rather than humble holidaymakers. Now international flights and resorts have opened up this idyll.

Before my departure I had found a copy of Into the Heart of Borneo by Redmond O’Hanlon, and it was to be my unofficial guide.

Although written only 32 years ago, the book is of a different world, detailing O’Hanlon’s 1983 journey to the centre of the island, an expedition not attempted since 1926. With sublime phrases such as “[the birds] were the yellow of all yellows, the kind of yellow that every other yellow secretly wishes to be”, this often hilarious account promised a land of tropical adventure.

Borneo did not disappoint. The world’s third-largest island is a land of the deepest green jungle, craggy mountains and shockingly blue ocean. Its flora is among the most diverse in the world, with nearly 15,000 species of flowering plants, about a third of which are indigenous.

Borneo became known for having one of the world’s most pristine rainforests. Now it is one of the most endangered. Hardwood logging has been going on since the Seventies. More recently, trees have been felled to make way for palm oil plantations, a potential catastrophe not only for the environment but also its native species such as the orang-utan.

The good news is that, thanks to increased awareness, Borneo is making efforts to reposition itself as a responsible tourist destination. There have been clampdowns on illegal logging, and the plight of the orang-utan, of which there are still 50,000 living on the island, has been recognised.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Swing states: Borneo