Orangutans, proboscis monkeys, gibbons, long-tailed macaques, wild oxen, the highly endangered Sumatran rhinoceros, the Asian elephant, the Sambar deer, the clouded leopard, and the sun bear. This is not a list of exotic animals at a first rate zoo. Rather these are just some of the many species native to one equatorial island no bigger than the state of Texas: Borneo. For centuries Borneo has been an ideal habitat for geological study and an asset for the procurement of natural resources. It has survived many territorial battles and constant deforestation. Yet, it is the possibility of vast palm oil plantations on the island that truly threaten its ecological survival, and our own.
The list of beneficial attributes and uses for palm oil continues to grow, as does the list of potential environmental concerns. Considering that 80 percent of palm oil production comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, it seems inevitable that Borneo (a territory of both countries) is destined to be developed as worldwide demand increases. This possibility would not only eradicate many creatures that exist nowhere else in the world, organic palm oil waste surrounding the island could be one of the largest contributors of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
While the Malaysian and Indonesian governments both assert their commitment to preserving this truly unique place, corporate bribes and local territorial corruption have undermined well-intended efforts. The indigenous people are poor and their survival is entirely more important to them than the survival of the forest. What can be done to improve their standard of life while preserving biodiversity and the environment?
To read more about this issue and find out what is being done to address it, check out the National Geographic article about Borneo’s future.