Are you dying to go on a safari for your next holiday? Go to Borneo! Is two days of mountain climbing your idea of a fantastic vacation? Go to Borneo! Do you want to cruise through the jungle searching for wildlife like a pro? Go to Borneo! Does scuba diving in some of the richest waters in the world sound like heaven? Go to Borneo! Basically if you want to have an awesome adventure, go to Borneo! There are mountains to climb, reefs to dive, rain forests to explore, and animals to see, but it may be for only for a limited time! Just like every bad mail-order T.V. advertisement you have ever seen, this offer is set to expire if something doesn’t change fast. But, unlike those T.V. offers, I am not talking about losing a chance to own a magic eraser cloth that also dries your car. When this offer expires it will mean the extinction of dozens of animals ONLY found in Borneo or Sumatra! No more Sumatran Rhino, no more Bornean or Sumatran sun bear, no more orangutans. They will be wiped out and gone forever, mainly due to loss of habitat due to human actions, if we don’t act now.Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is home to the second largest rain forest. In this rain forest there are countless examples of flora and fauna that only exist on this amazing island. Borneo is one-quarter Malaysia and nearly three-quarters Indonesia, with a tiny, tiny chunk in the north that is Brunei. It’s wildlife and geography closely resembles that of it’s neighboring Indonesian Island, Sumatra. They both have some of the most unique animals found in the world, but those animals are fated to extinction if current deforestation rates continue…especially deforestation for palm oil plantations.
One of the most unexpected and fantastic adventures Christine and I have ever been on was our trip to Sabah, Borneo. This is the northeast corner of the island and it is a haven for all sorts of wildlife. It has limited tourist activity, so little so that just getting around required a little more effort than in more well-traveled places we have been. It immediately had a different feel, as every single place we stayed seemed to have an unspoken “whisper only” policy and every other patron was happy to uphold this requirement.
While we were there, we were able to stay in Sepilok in remote jungle bungalows built right in the rain forest on stilts and in Sukau, where you could drink your morning coffee right on the Kinabatangan river just before your safari began. It was a magical trip that seemed to transform us and each visitor we met into a more tranquil, peaceful version of themselves.
While in Sukau, we particularly enjoyed the jungle river safaris. With three safaris per day, you truly get a chance to see an abundance of awesome animals. It was very obvious that it was important to our guide to keep the wildlife viewing working in harmony with the wildlife he sought to show us. The boat motors were barely audible as we glided down the side channels, our boat floating within inches of monkeys, crocodiles, and wart-hogs calmly enjoying their daily routines. The animals never acted like they felt threatened or had ever had a negative experience with humans. The experiences were careful and with local guides seeking to maintain the order of the jungle while we passively observed.Conservation is the theme of the tourist industry in Borneo, with a focus on sustainable tourism that can help the island. Christine and I have seen how tourism and tourists can irreversibly change the lives of locals, seemingly over-night. Sometimes tourist dollars can help a community, but often it is not sustainable and is only a trend that will leave the area worse off than before it started. We think that with travel writing comes the responsibility of not over-glamorizing areas that do not promote sustainable tourism. In the case of Borneo and its ecotour safaris, tourism can actually help wildlife because it will incentivize preserving the pristine wilderness!Deforestation is occurring as demand for more, cheap palm oil escalates for food and energy. This increase can be met in several ways, but historically has meant the total destruction of natural forests in order to build palm oil plantations. If local communities in Borneo can find alternate ways to generate income while protecting the natural environment, it can help empower locals to maintain more control of their land, assisting to find alternate methods of income that are less destructive and more sustainable.
While we were in Sepilok, we learned that there are many animals in Borneo that need our help right now, two in particular being the sun bear and orangutan. Orangutans and sun bears are endemic to Sumatra and Borneo, but their survival as a species is becoming a questionable. Many experts speculate that wild orangutans in Borneo will be extinct within 10 years without massive intervention. In the last 100 years, 90 percent of Sabah’s native Orangutan population has been lost due to habitat destruction. 90 percent! Additionally, there is a huge market for both of these cute, cuddly animals to be caught and sold, both as exotic pets. Sun bears are also caught illegally for medicinal use. Unfortunately, these negative influences leave primates and bears orphaned very young, animals that need their mothers to help them figure out how to live in the wild on their own. Orangutans don’t live in troops like other primates, they are solitary as adults. So an orphan can’t just watch and learn from another mother in the pack. They have to be taught how to climb, find food, and build their sleeping nest each night. The sun bears don’t know what is dangerous in the wild and have to be taught what to eat and how to find it. They need guidance as well. That is where rehabilitation comes in with a little help from tourism.
In Sepilok, we visited a sun bear sanctuary and an orangutan rehabilitation center, both of which care for and teach the orphans in hopes to return them to the wild. With the aid of tourism dollars, so far the plans have been successful and are expanding! The centers charge low fees to visitors who can enter and watch the animals. This isn’t a zoo. At the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, rescued orphaned baby orangutans are trained to survive in the wild, then released. The orphans are trained by older primates and the human “mothers” that care for them. The rehabilitation center schedules two feedings each day, a great time for visitors to see the orangutans close up. If the wild orangutans want a free meal, they choose to show up and eat at the center. If the wild primates are happy away from the center, they find their own food with their new skills in the surrounding jungle.
At the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center, rescued sun bears are taught how to climb, build nests and forage for food before being released back into the wild. Both centers use the tourist entrance fees to progress forward with this care while educating the public of the dire situation that these endangered animals are in. An additional option to contribute includes making a donation to “adopt” your own baby orangutan, where you will receive updates on its progress and care! If that still isn’t enough, both centers HAPPILY take volunteers! These are non-profit organizations, with a mostly volunteer staff. Your time and effort could be a huge help!
THERE ARE WAYS TO VOLUNTEER IN BORNEO REBUILDING CORAL REEFS TOO!
GO TO BORNEO!
We had a short trip and only made it to a fraction of the activities that Borneo offers! We can’t wait to go back and climb Mount Kinabalu, dive the pristine waters of Sipadan, and see more of the fantastic wildlife hidden in those jungles (Pygmy elephants where were you?)!
If you are looking for a vacation this year that is a little more exotic, if you want to get just a little off the beaten path, or if you want to help a cause and see something that may be gone forever, GO TO BORNEO! It is a special place and home to so many amazing creatures. It can offer any adventurer a good time. Go to Borneo.