In a landmark achievement, celebrated on its 25th Anniversary in May 2014, World Land Trust (WLT) raised one million pounds to save a wildlife corridor in the Bornean Rainforest.
This is the story of WLT’s Borneo Rainforest Appeal: aiming to raise One Million pounds...
In 2012, during a WLT field trip to Sabah, Dr Isabelle Lackman, Co-Director of Hutan, WLT's partner in Malaysian Borneo, described to a group of WLT donors exactly how Hutan could protect a wildlife corridor for Bornean Orang-utans.
It could only be done by purchasing small parcels of forest along the Kinabatangan river and, more importantly, it would be possible, she explained, “if only I had a million pounds”.
Inspired by Isabelle's vision and motivated by the urgency of the situation, WLT launched the Borneo Rainforest Appeal to secure habitat vital for the survival of the Bornean Orang-utan in the wild in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. A million pounds was an ambitious fundraising target but one that WLT felt appropriate to aim for, with the lives of significant populations of Orang-utans hanging in the balance.
With the funds raised WLT has helped create the Keruak Corridor, which will links Keruak Forest Reserve with one part of Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary (LKWS). The corridor is being created in partnership with Hutan.
The first phase of the project secures a stretch of several properties along the north bank of the Kinabatangan River.
After the completion of the first phase, if funds can be raised, the project will move into a second phase to widen the corridor.
To create the Keruak Corridor WLT needed to raise in the region of one million pounds - a lot of money for a relatively small area, but land is very expensive in Borneo because of the booming palm oil sector.
And, in Borneo, even small parcels of land can be a lifeline for Orang-utans so long as they link together protected forests enabling animals to move safely over greater distances.
That WLT managed to raise a million pounds is testament to the outstanding generosity of its supporters who rallied magnificently, particularly during Big Match Fortnight, two weeks in October 2013, which alone raised £725,000.
Orang-utans are considered keystone species, playing a critical role in maintaining the structure of the whole ecology of the region. If they were to become extinct, there would be a knock-on effect throughout the whole ecosystem.
Orang-utans play a vital role in maintaining the health of the forest. They eat fruit and, by ranging far and wide, they disperse the seeds of the fruits they consume. (A male orang-utan covers up to 9884 acres - 4,000 hectares - in his lifetime.) Orang-utans also trim forest trees by eating leaves and using branches to make their nests, which allows more light to the under storey.
- Forest destruction and habitat fragmentation: Orang-utans are dependent on continuous forest but, primarily due to land clearance for oil palm plantations, their natural habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate, and what remains is in isolated patches. Lack of forest cover reduces the Orang-utan’s ability to find a sufficiently nutritious diet, and (in the case of males) to roam in search of a mate.
- Diminishing gene pool: There may be as many as 1,000 Orang-utans in Kinabatangan, but due to forest destruction Orang-utans are increasingly isolated from each other, living in groups of between 5 and 200. With unlimited habitat male Orang-utans will travel across large areas to find a mate, covering up to 4,000 hectares in his lifetime, but due to the fragmentation of forest habitat some Orang-utans are unable to move outside their ‘forest island’ to find a mate, meaning that there is a great risk of inbreeding. The shrinking of the Orang-utan gene pool threatens the viability of the species.
- Extinction: 90 per cent of Sabah’s native Orang-utan population has been lost in the past 100 years due to habitat destruction. Worst-case scenarios suggest that if deforestation continues the Orang-utan could soon become extinct in many areas.
- Land price inflation: the price of land is increasing due to demand from oil palm producers, which means that the financial cost of purchasing and protecting land for Orang-utans is very high.
In the Kinabatangan floodplain, one of Malaysia’s most beautiful wetlands, Keruak Corridor now reconnects patches of rainforest that have become fragmented due to logging and intensive cultivation. Thanks to World Land Trust and its supporters, Keruak Corridor enables Orang-utans once more to roam the forest of the north bank of the Kinabatangan River.