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Fast-Disappearing 'Heart of Borneo' is Likely Home To Thousands of Species Still Undiscovered

Urgent action needed to protect island where 361 species were recently discovered

Washington - In the past decade, at least 361 new species have been discovered on Borneo, one of the most important centers of biodiversity in the world. And a new report by World Wildlife Fund finds that there are likely to be thousands of plant and animal species left to discover on the world's third-largest island.

Released today, "Borneo's Lost World: Newly Discovered Species on Borneo" (PDF, 22M) shows at least 361 new species have been identified and described on the Asian island between 1994 and 2004: 260 insects, 50 plants, 30 freshwater fish, 7 frogs, 6 lizards, 5 crabs, 2 snakes and a toad.

The report suggests that thousands more have not yet been studied, particularly in the island's 54 million-acre inner region, which is relatively inaccessible and home to some of the most pristine forests left on the island. Borneo is split between the countries of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

Much of the island's wildlife species - even the largest mammals - have yet to be closely studied by scientists. WWF and other scientists just discovered in 2003 that Borneo's pygmy elephants are genetically distinct from other Asian elephants and are likely a new subspecies. And it wasn't until 2000 that scientists found that Borneo's orangutan population is a separate species from other orangutans.

Large areas of Borneo's forest are being rapidly cleared and replaced with tree plantations for rubber, palm oil and timber production. According to the report, the illegal trade in exotic animals is also on the rise, as logging trails and cleared forest open access to more remote areas.

"U.S. and international consumer demand for wood, rubber and palm oil, used in lots of food and cosmetics, fuels much of the destruction of the Borneo jungle," said Tom Dillon, director of species conservation at WWF. "All of these useful products can be sustainably produced, and consumers and companies need to tell companies they don't want products created at the expense of wildlife in some of the last pristine rain forests left on Earth."

An ambitious initiative is under way to conserve the "Heart of Borneo." WWF is working to assist Borneo's three nations to conserve the area known as the "Heart of Borneo" - a total of 137,000 square miles of equatorial rain forest - through a network of protected areas and sustainably managed forest and through international cooperation led by the governments of Borneo and supported by a global effort.

"Borneo is undoubtedly one of the most important centers of biodiversity in the world," Dillon said. "Losing the heart of Borneo would be an unacceptable tragedy not only for Borneo and its people, but also for the world. It is really now or never."

Borneo is one of only two places - the other being Indonesia's Sumatra island - where endangered orangutans, elephants and rhinos co-exist. Other threatened wildlife in Borneo includes clouded leopards, sun bears and Bornean gibbons, the latter found nowhere else in the world. The island is also home to 10 primate species, more than 350 bird species, 150 reptiles and amphibians and 15,000 plants.

The protection of the heart of Borneo would not only benefit wildlife. It would also help alleviate poverty by increasing water and food security and cultural survival for the people of Borneo. In the long term, it will save the island from the ultimate threat of deforestation and increased impacts from droughts and fires.