Waking up in the rainforest in Borneo is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. There is a cacophony—the dawn chorus of birds, monkeys howling, frogs calling, insects buzzing. It’s magical.
The rainforest is lush, dense, and teeming with life. There are more than 600 bird species and 15,000 types of plants in Borneo’s forests, as well as hundreds of indigenous communities who depend on the forests for food and shelter.
On my trip there two years ago with WWF staff, we swam in crystal clear waterfalls. Amazing birds—iridescent kingfishers and enormous rhinoceros hornbills—swooped overhead. At dusk, we saw fireflies illuminate a tree like they were Christmas lights.
From our boat, I saw elephants foraging, orangutans perched in the canopy, and proboscis monkeys leaping from tree to tree. That proximity to the animals made it seem like the forest was thriving, but it was an illusion: The wildlife is concentrated partly because there is only a narrow band of rainforest left along the water. Beyond that it has all been cleared, mostly for oil palm plantations. The animals have nowhere left to go.
Communities and wildlife at risk
Only half of Borneo’s original forest cover remains due to increased palm oil production and unsustainable logging for timber, paper, and pulp. Palm oil is used in many products purchased every day by consumers around the world, from snack foods to soaps. Borneo’s rainforests are also becoming flooring, furniture, and plywood products found on store shelves in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Economic development in Borneo is essential for poverty alleviation. But local communities suffer when major companies clear rainforests and ignore traditional land rights. And Borneo’s rich wildlife diversity is increasingly imperiled when rainforests are razed for plantations.
Markets making a difference
Working with WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network program, I have come to better understand the enormous pressures on Borneo’s forests, people, and wildlife. I also see the positive influence of international market demand for more responsible wood, paper, and palm oil products on forest management practices in Borneo.
One way WWF is working to reduce deforestation in the region is through promoting Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification of wood and paper products. FSC certification allows responsible harvesting in addition to protecting local community rights and wildlife habitat.
WWF also encourages responsible oil palm plantation development in Borneo on degraded lands through the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, and urges international companies to buy only sustainably certified palm oil.
Be a part of the solution
What I have learned at WWF—and one of the reasons I love my job—is that we are all connected. I’ve also learned that every person can be part of the solution by making purchasing decisions that support responsible forestry in one of the most amazing tropical rainforests and wildlife habitats on earth.
For some of these places, there’s limited time. This fact—and my memories of seeing those monkeys and elephants along the river, consigned to a narrow and dwindling home—motivates me to work hard at promoting responsible trade to protect forests and wildlife every day.