Conservationists revive rainforest in Borneo


From British weekly The Observer:

Rainforest seeds revive lost paradise

Endangered wildlife returns to tropical wasteland as conservationists work a natural ‘miracle’

Six years ago the area around Samboja in Borneo was like much of the world’s tropical rainforest: denuded. The trees had been cut for timber, the land burnt, and in place of what should be some of the richest biodiversity on the planet were thousands of acres of grass.

But from this ruined landscape a fresh forest has been grown, teeming with insects, birds and animals, and cooled by the return of moist clouds and rain. It is a feat that has been hailed by scientists and offers hope for disappearing and ruined rainforests around the world.

The secret was to use more than 1,300 species of local tree and a fertiliser made with cow urine, says Dr Willie Smits, the Indonesian forestry expert who led the replanting. …

The area around the small town of Samboja was like a ‘moonscape’ when Smits first visited it nearly a decade ago. The rainforest had been cut and burnt and was covered with grasses. Without the forest, the rains disappeared and temperatures rose: streams dried up, harvests failed, fires broke out, jobs disappeared and ill health soared.

‘The only thing I saw was this huge sea of yellow, waving grass; there was wind, but there was no rustling of leaves,’ Smits said. ‘There were no birds, not even insects, nothing but this damned grass.’

Smits raised money to buy 5,000 acres and six years ago set about planting seeds collected from more than 1,300 species of tree, more even than would have lived in the original forest. These were planted with a special ‘micro-biological agent’ made from sugar, excrement, food waste and sawdust – and cow urine.

Planting finishes this year, but already Smits and his team from the Borneo Orang-utan Survival Foundation charity claim the forest is ‘mature’, with trees up to 35 metres high. Cloud cover has increased by 12 per cent, rainfall by a quarter, and temperatures have dropped 3-5C, helping people and wildlife to thrive, says Smits. Nine species of primate have also returned, including the threatened orang-utans. ‘If you walk there now, 116 bird species have found a place to live, there are more than 30 types of mammal, insects are there. The whole system is coming to life. I knew what I was trying to do, but the force of nature has totally surprised me.’

6 thoughts on “Conservationists revive rainforest in Borneo

  1. Palm oil wiping out key orangutan habitat: activists

    Wed May 7, 3:50 AM ET

    JAKARTA (AFP) – One of the biggest populations of wild orangutans on Borneo will be extinct in three years without drastic measures to stop the expansion of palm oil plantations, conservationists said Wednesday.
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    “For Central Kalimantan, the species will be gone as soon as three years from now,” Centre for Orangutan Protection director Hardi Bhaktiantoro told a press conference.

    More than 30,000 wild orangutans live in the forests of Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province, or more than half the entire orangutan population of Borneo island which is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

    Experts believe the overall extinction rate of Borneo orangutans is nine percent per year, but in Central Kalimantan they are disappearing even faster due to unchecked expansion of palm oil plantations.

    “The expansion of palm oil plantations is wiping out entire habitats and unless the government takes drastic measures to protect these orangutan sanctuaries there is no way to reverse the trend,” Bhaktiantoro said.

    He showed pictures taken in November of dead orangutans being carried out of new plantations in Central Kalimantan, where they are hunted as pests to prevent them eating palm seedlings.

    Orangutans are found only on Borneo and Sumatra and are listed as endangered by the Swiss-based World Conservation Union, the paramount scientific authority on imperilled species.

    It says numbers of the ape have fallen by well over 50 percent in the past 60 years as a result of habitat loss, poaching and the pet trade.

    Indonesia has already lost 72 percent of its 123 million hectares (304 million acres) of ancient rain forest due to frenzied logging and burning of peatland for agriculture, according to Greenpeace figures.

    But the recent growth in demand for palm oil from food, cosmetic and biofuel companies is putting more pressure on orangutan habitats, swathes of which lie outside conversation areas.

    “The deforestation rate in the area (Central Kalimantan), especially for conversion to palm oil plantation is extremely high,” Bhaktiantoro said.

    President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was keen to trumpet his government’s efforts to save the orange apes as Indonesia hosted the UN-sponsored world climate conference in December.

    He used the occasion to unveil a scheme called the Orangutan Action Plan designed to stabilise orangutan populations and habitat by 2017 and promote sustainable forest management.

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  2. Tropical rainforests are regrowing. Now what?
    Mon Jan 12, 2009 1:06pm EST

    By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The world’s tropical rainforests are making a comeback, but young vegetation may not be able to sustain as much diverse wildlife or lock up nearly as much climate-warming carbon dioxide as old trees did, scientists report.

    The rainforest debate has raged publicly for decades, and more recently has been the subject of behind-the-scenes ferment among conservation scientists. It is the main topic of a Smithsonian symposium on Monday at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington.

    These discussions are taking place as the international community is trying to figure out how to stem global warming. Because tropical forests sequester the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, they are considered an essential part of the solution.

    About 135,000 square miles (350,000 square kilometers) of the original forested areas that were cut down by humans are growing back, according to Greg Asner of the Washington-based Carnegie Institution, a presenter at the symposium. That is only 1.7 percent of the original forest.

    This regrowth is relatively quick, with the shady forest canopy closing in after just 15 years as trees grow taller and denser, offering habitat for creatures adapted to just this environment, such as birds with huge eyes able to see in the leafy gloom.

    The basic question — will rainforests survive? — has been complicated by research by Joseph Wright of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and Helene Muller-Landau of the University of Minnesota.

    RAINFORESTS RETURN AS PEOPLE LEAVE

    These two scientists reported that the future of tropical forests may not be as bleak as other conservation experts warn, mostly because people who once lived in or near these forests are moving away, mostly toward cities, allowing vegetation to grow.

    Using United Nations projections of population growth, Wright and Muller-Landau predicted in a 2006 journal article that “large areas of tropical forest cover will remain in 2030 and beyond, and thus that habitat loss will threaten extinction for a smaller proportion of tropical forest species than previously predicted.”

    Keeping a wide range of tropical rainforest species is important as a source for potential pharmaceuticals and disease-resistant crops. The prevailing scientific prediction is that up to half of all species may be lost in the coming decades.

    But these young forests can’t support what the old-growth forests did, said William Laurence, also of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center.

    From the Amazon in South America to the tropical woodlands of Africa and Southeast Asia, human beings have destroyed as much as 4.6 million square miles (12 million sq km) of rainforest, about half of the original tropical forests on the planet.

    These forests are disappearing at the rate of 50 football fields a minute, or 32 million acres (13 million hectares) a year, Laurence said in a telephone interview before the conference.

    “There’s just no way that secondary forests are going to capture a lot of the biodiversity and critical ecosystem,” Laurence said. “They’re also much more vulnerable to fire.”

    Laurence also argues that people used to clear rainforest for small-scale farming, but this is being supplanted by more destructive large-scale industrial agriculture, logging and mining.

    (Editing by Philip Barbara)

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  3. Pingback: Birdwatching in Brunei, Borneo | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: How pangolins eat, new research | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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