Deforestation in Borneo

Borneo is located to the south of the Indochina peninsula and to the northeast of Indonesia and is divided among three countries, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. The island is rich in biodiversity (given its tropical location) with thousands of different species and has rainforests that are up to 140 million years old, making them some of the oldest in the world. The Malaysian state of Sarawak is located on the northern part of the island and is home to the Penan tribe, an indigenous people who depend on the land to live.

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The Penan are seeing these ancient forests cut to the ground and replaced with palm plants, destroying their source of life as well as the native wildlife’s habitats. Wildlife habitats have been exposed by the excessive logging and building of utility roads resulting in a major spike in poaching on the island. But these forests do much more than just provide a home for plants and animals. They provide protection for the soil from the sun and absorb carbon from our atmosphere, so when loggers cut them down, the carbon is released back into the air furthering the effects of global warming. Deforestation is detrimental to the environment and its natural processes while simultaneously acting as a threat to human and wildlife populations in Borneo.

Since the 1970s the Malaysian government has been exploiting the Penan people for their land. Under Sarawak law, the lands that the Penan claim as their own belong to the state, and are therefore subject to state needs, in this case, lumber. Not until the late 80s and early 90s did they begin to form groups of resistance against the timber companies that were destroying their homes and way of life. Interestingly, not all of the Penan were united in the cause. The western Penan were not in on the cause, while the eastern Penan were determined to make a change. Western Penan were inactive during the protests due to differences in their social structures and historical experiences… (Bending 3) The protests were non-violent and mainly consisted of tribe’s people manning barricades across logging roads. Many of these initial acts of resistance were actually successful and …logging was halted over a wide area… (Bending 4) Ironically, numerous Penan depend on the employment of the same logging companies that they were resisting due to the reduction of their forest homes. They don’t really have a choice, their homes and food source are being destroyed, so they have to survive somehow and the jobs available to them are through the timber business.

With 222 mammal species (44 endemic), 420 bird species (37 endemic), and 494 amphibians and fish, 15,000 species of plant (6,000 endemic), and much more, Borneo is known to have one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the globe. It’s one of the last places on earth where elephants, rhinos, leopards, and orangutans all co-exist. The plethora of life on the island has opened many scientific doors for research and learning, and they aren’t done discovering. For example, from 1995 to 2010 over 600 species have been discovered… (Borneo Wildlife) If you do the math, that comes out to be three species discoveries every month.

Poaching has emerged as one of the biggest threats to the island’s biodiversity. As previously discussed, loggers need to create roads in order to access the forests they plan to decimate. These roads are being created at an alarming rate. Gopalasamy Clements, author of numerous publications on NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), stated that Between 2005 and 2010, the percentage of total roads that are paved in the developing countries of East Asia soared from 16% to 51%. The roads are then also used by poachers looking for animals that’re considered delectable in Japan and China on the illegal animal market. The most commonly poached animals in Borneo are the Orangutan, the Pangolin, and the Arowana, but species like the Sun Bear, the red-giant flying-squirrels, and the large flying fox have gone extinct due to the overhunting. Poachers are able to reach areas of the forest previously unreachable thanks to the logging roads. The path is laid out right in front of the poachers, making it easier than ever for them to hunt exotic species.

Destruction of the forests also disturbs the delicate equilibrium of the biosphere and its cycles. Forests are known carbon sinks, meaning they absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere. So, when loggers destroy massive tracks of forest land, the carbon dioxide that the trees had absorbed is released back into the atmosphere, furthering the effects of global warming at a staggering rate. According to G.R. van der Werf, Deforestation is the second largest anthropogenic source of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, after fossil fuel combustion. Trees release water vapor through their foliage (leaves) that then rises into the atmosphere and takes part in the water cycle. With the lowland rain forests of Borneo amassing 427,500 square kilometers, you can imagine how much water vapor these forests create and how important they are to ecosystems around the world. Destroying these forests and disturbing the water cycle poses a substantial risk to agriculture in key breadbaskets halfway around the world in parts of the US, India, and China. (Pearce) The majority of the rain that the interior of continents see has been recycled through the water cycle several times and trees are what allow this to happen. The trees roots take water from the ground and release that moisture into the air in a process known as transpiration. This process is essential to generating new rainfall downwind. (Pearce) Forests also serve as protection from the sun during the day and insulation at night. Without them, surface temperatures have risen up to 10 degrees Celsius in some cases. This leads to desertification, where the land loses its bodies of water, vegetation, and wildlife. Trees do much more for the earth than a lot of people realize. Apart from their mystic aura of wisdom and aesthetic beauty, they serve as water cycle catalysts, homes for humans and wildlife, protection for the soil in which they stand, vacuums for our carbon emissions, and much more. The Penan continue to fight a seemingly winless battle against a government that turns a blind eye to their rights and the natural rights of the land and wildlife. The destruction of the rainforests in Borneo is negatively affecting human population, wildlife population, and the environment all at the same time. The act of deforestation is slowly strangling not only Borneo, but the entire world.

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