Wednesday, January 31, 2018

How an adventure may help save the mountain forests of Borneo

An eco-adventure in the highlands of Borneo spanning Sabah, Sarawak and neighbouring Krayan province in Kalimantan, Indonesia, offered two things: chances to be closer with pristine mountain forests and to help out in local conservation projects.

This was the Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge (HEC) that I went through last year.

The biennial HEC went far beyond an ordinary tourism package. Rather, it was an adventure event, initiated by the indigenous people of Borneo’s interior, that combined history, culture, and stewardship of nature.

Participants travelled by 4WD, walked through ancient Bornean rainforests, and visited villages and historical sites. These are places the ancestors of the highlanders once passed through on their migratory routes thousands of years ago.

The highlands of Sarawak, Sabah, and Krayan are located inside the Heart of Borneo, an initiative to conserve the mountainous forested core of this great island that was agreed upon among the three governments of Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia in 2007.

The eco challenge was organised by the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples in the Highlands of Borneo (Formadat) with help from WWF-Malaysia.

Alicia Ng of WWF (Sarawak office) said the goals of the organisers were to heighten the awareness of ecotourism in the highland forests of Borneo.

Rather than a huge trail running competition, the challenge was more of an ecotourism journey delving into the roots of the people and the natural surroundings that have nurtured them.

The aim was to conserve the biodiversity of the Heart of Borneo for the benefit of the people who rely upon it through a network of protected areas (and sustainably-managed) forests.

Two eco challenge trails were featured. First was the shorter five day “Jungle Exploration” trail which covered only Sabah and Sarawak (Kota Kinabalu-Sipitang-Long Pa’ Sia-Long Semadoh-Lawas) that I went for. Then there was a 10 day “Heart of Borneo Experience” which extended to Long Bawan in Kalimantan.