Thursday, October 26, 2017

On The Brink Of Extinct: Borneo And The Tragedy Of Deforestation

The sight of a 20kg red monkey with a huge nose balancing atop a slender electricity pole should be hilarious.

Perched so precariously in the middle of a palm oil plantation and right beside a busy road, the lone monkey looks like the last surviving sailor clinging to the mast of a sinking ship.

In the seconds I have to take all this in before the bus I'm travelling in has hurtled past, I recognise the animal as the proboscis monkey -- an endangered species of which there's only about 7,000 left in the wild.

I'd just spent the better part of three days in the Borneo jungle looking for it.

Perhaps a week previously, I would have laughed at the bizarre image I had just been treated to, but in the few days I've been in Borneo, I've learnt and seen too much to find the humour.

As a guest of G Adventures and Tourism Malaysia, the eight-day trip boats an intense schedule touring through the natural highlights of Sabah -- the island's north-eastern territory controlled by Malaysia.

Our small tour group has managed to spot endangered animals in the wild, seen them up close at rehabilitation centres, cruised down the crocodile-infested Kinabagatan River and been welcomed into small local villages.

We have heard the eerie pulse of the ancient jungle at night, seen baby turtles hatch before releasing them into the ocean and met some of the dedicated local rangers working tirelessly to save the myriad of endemic species facing extinction.

And we've eaten so much traditional local food we probably would've gone home 10kgs heavier if we weren't sweating out our own body weight on a daily basis.

But again and again throughout these exhilirating days and nights, we have witnessed the tragedy of Borneo and Sabah from a heart-wrenchingly close proximity.

As the third largest island in the world, Borneo historically had extensive rainforest coverage, but massive deforestation since the 1960s under the timber and palm oil industries has drastically reduced native jungle to such an extent the primary rainforest is now threatened. Borneo's lucrative palm oil industry isn't slowing down either.

Palm oil is currently the world's most consumed vegetable oil and is found in about half of all packaged products found on supermarket shelves all over the world.

The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) expects the global demand for this cheap vegetable oil to only increase over the next decade.