Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Working towards a happy ending

4 December, 2013 - 15:10 -- World Land Trust
Orang-utan, mother and baby in the trees.

The wild creatures of Sabah in Borneo: will they live happily ever after? Author and World Land Trust (WLT) ambassador Nicola Davies believes their future is secure, but only if we empathise with their plight and act now to protect their forest home. 

Imagine it’s the end of the world. Almost everything and everybody is gone. Your world has been reduced to a barren wasteland too hostile and too dangerous to cross.

You and your family have survived, cocooned in a green oasis where there is food and water and shelter. So it’s a happy ending, right? The future of your species is assured. From you and from other survivors, a new population will grow.

Wrong, because even if you are prepared to commit incest with your family members, in the long run it won’t help. In a few generations inbreeding will end the existence of your little colony as offspring will be too defective to survive. Dotted over the unsurvivable wasteland are other little islands of green, each holding a tiny group of survivors that together might make a viable population. But each island is isolated, the survivors within them unaware of one another’s existence and, in any case, unable to survive the journey to reach each other. 

This is exactly the situation facing the animals of the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, north east Borneo, one of only two places on earth where you can see 10 species of primates, including Orang-utan and Proboscis Monkey, plus the Bornean Pygmy Elephant. It’s a who’s-who of Asian wildlife even before you start on the eight species of hornbill.

Help is at hand

Taking a boat along the river, as I did last year in company with other World Land Trust (WLT) ambassadors, you see so many animals that it’s possible to come away with the impression that all is well (and it's certainly easy to get very over excited, especially when you almost have an elephant in your boat).

But, just like the survivors in my  apocalyptic scenario, these animals are facing the end of their world. The primary rainforest, with the 70 metre high canopy that was their home is utterly gone, clear felled and replaced with a green desert of palm oil plantation. The remaining species are surviving in parcels of secondary forest that lie plotted and pieced in a broken strip along the banks of the Kinabatangan River. In the long term their prospects could be very bleak. 

“The purchase of relatively small parcels of land has a huge effect: a total of a few hundred acres, bought to close the gaps in the green chain, creates a wildlife refuge hundreds of times larger.”
(Nicola Davies, Author and WLT Ambassador)

Luckily, like the cavalry coming over the hill, WLT with its local conservation partner Hutan is joining up the green islands to make a continuous green chain by buying threatened plots of land, replanting gaps, preserving and safeguarding forest that survives. Not only does this reconnect the small, isolated pockets of wildlife in the chain, but it can link the riparian ribbon with much larger areas of forest reserve, to the east and west. This converts a series of small, unviable populations, into single populations, large enough to have a real future.

This means that the purchase of relatively small parcels of land has a huge effect: a total of a few hundred acres, bought to close the gaps in the green chain, creates a wildlife refuge hundreds of times larger. Which is why WLT’s Big Match Fortnight in October was most definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

More information

During Big Match Fortnight, WLT's supporters raised an incredible £725,000 for WLT's Borneo Rainforest Appeal. The appeal target is one million pounds, so please give generously to help us ensure a future for  Sabah's  magnificent Orang-utans.

Big Match Fortnight exceeds expectations »

Donate to Borneo Rainforest Appeal »

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