Those of us that work with animals and plants on a daily basis often take our vacations where we can see even more animals and plants! Recently I had the opportunity to travel to one of the regions exhibited in our rainforest here at the Academy- the island of Borneo. There I witnessed first hand the world’s oldest tropical forests and the island’s amazing biodiversity. Below is a photo of Mulu National Park.
Borneo is the world’s third largest island and is divided politically between Indonesia (73%), Malaysia (26%), and Brunei (1%). We explored the Malaysian sections of the island. First, I met my friends in Singapore where we spent some time adjusting to the 13 hour time difference. From there we traveled to Kuching, Sarawak state, then made our way east across the island, ending in Danum Valley, Sabah state. Below is one of the emergent trees in Danum Valley.
We were led by talented author Eric Hansen, along with biologist Ch’ien Lee, and botanist Anthony Lamb. Borneo has a rich history and great cultural diversity in addition to its unique ecology. And we saw some pretty cool stuff…including this pitcher plant Nepenthes bicalcarata . We have the same species growing in our rainforest here at the Academy- look for them growing on the wall on the Borneo level.
Borneo has some pretty fascinating insects, including this rhinocerous beetle and millipede:
At one point we found a Little Spiderhunter Arachnothera longirostra that had flown into glass and stunned itself. We gave it some fluids and a quiet spot in the shade to recover. Spiderhunters are the Bornean equilvalent of the honeycreepers Cyanerpes spp that can be seen in the neotropics and in our rainforest exhibit.
We even found a land planaria, sometimes called hammerhead leech. Remember those planaria from 7th grade biology class? This is what they look like in Borneo!!
And of course, no trip to the tropics would be complete without some sort of habituated monkey that’s causing trouble. In this case, long-tailed macaques Macaca fascicularis, sometimes called crab-eating macaques, were the smart ones that kept an eye on unattended bags, waiting for the chance to thieve some treats.
The reality is that most of what we saw was in protected areas such as national parks or conservation areas. Land that is not protected is being “developed,” mostly into oil palm plantations. It is a very complex issue compounded by the fact that Borneo has some very unique and charismatic species along with the need to provide jobs and infastructure for its people.
Monocultures of oil palm have extremely reduced species diversity (12 bird species compared to 220+ in lowland primary forest). Palm oil is used in a variety of products, from processed foods to soaps and shampoos. The effect of oil palm plantations on habitat in Borneo is one we as consumers can shape, by using our purchasing power to support sustainably grown palm oil.
For more info, check out fellow AZA member Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s palm oil resource site or GreenPalm, a certification program designed to address the social and environmental issues surrounding palm oil production.