Only 60 years ago, the island of Borneo was covered in forest. The lowland areas of Borneo were covered in millions of hectares of tropical forests and peat swamps, some of the most biodiverse areas on Earth. In one square kilometre of Bornean lowland tropical forest, there are 10 times more tree species than in the whole of Europe combined!
The invention of the chainsaw changed everything. Logging and agriculture, that had been taking place at a slow pace suddenly accelerated massively. The demand from Western countries for tropical hardwoods and crops such as rubber made it commercially viable for Malaysia and Indonesia to chop down their Bornean forests at an unprecedented and uncontrolled speed.
Then in 2003, Denmark became the first country to ban trans fats, a type of chemically-altered fat added to our foods. In 2005, an important paper by the Food and Nutrition Board, in the USA, established that human consumption of trans fats leads to coronary heart disease. The global food industry was in turmoil, and, afraid of being sued for feeding , scrambled to find a cheap and plentiful alternative oil. They turned to palm oil. Demand for palm oil, which had already been increasing, rose ever higher. The result was that deforestation on the island of Borneo increased even more rapidly than before, as palm oil companies rushed to find suitable agricultural land.
The maps below illustrates deforestation in Borneo. The remaining forests in 2020 are generally around mountainous areas, whilst the lowland tropical forests, home to orangutans and the most biodiverse habitat, have largely been destroyed or degraded.
Since lowland tropical rainforest is so very important for biodiversity, REACT is committed to reforestation in the most sensitive areas. REACT focuses on an area called the Kinabatangan River in the Northeast of Borneo, where there are high concentrations of Bornean orangutans, pygmy elephants, sun bears, clouded leopards and literally dozens of other species threatened with extinction.
We support local school children from local villages to get involved in tree planting in wildlife corridors and degraded forests. This ensures that there will be suitable habitat for many endangered species, and at the same time educates children about environmental problems. The truth is that many people in these areas are not aware of the conservation issues, or the importance of the environment. Many of the children from these villages we take on tree planting sessions have never seen a wild orangutan.