Asia,  Cultural Experience,  Ecotour,  Nature Conservation

Ecotours in Tropical Forest in Borneo

What kind of image comes to mind when someone says “tropical forest”? Perhaps mangroves or colourful creatures? Or perhaps it is a hot and humid climate? Maybe some people might think that it seems a bit dangerous … Or perhaps for many, tropical forests are an unknown world. When actually stepping into a tropical forest, one will encounter plants that aren’t seen in many forests, and can hear the sounds of animals that one may have never heard before. 

Borneo is filled with tropical forest 

Located between the Philippines, Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, Borneo (Kalimantan) is the third largest island in the world. The island is made up of three countries: Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and is known for having vast tropical forests, although the number of those forests has decreased sharply due to development in recent years. Borneo has at least 15,000 species of plants, of which 6,000 are endemic. There one can also discover many of the world’s rare animals, flora and fauna, including orangutans and pygmy elephants which are the smallest elephants in the world. 

This time, we would like to introduce some eco tours of Borneo Island (Indonesian Territory), which offers travellers a deep insight into environmental problems which may be difficult to notice in everyday life, while experiencing the lives of the local residents in Borneo Island.

* Eco-tour: An eco-friendly trip, such as learning about the ecosystem by observing and experiencing nature and participating in activities which lead to the conservation of local nature and culture.

What are the problems facing Borneo?

Before getting into the tour, there are some “problems” that Borneo faces which travellers should be aware of.

In Borneo, the development of oil palm plantations (large-scale farms that mass-produce one crop) has progressed rapidly. From the oil palm, one can harvest the fruit that is the raw material of palm oil, a typical vegetable oil. Palm oil is used in chocolate, snacks, detergents, and various other everyday items, and is used in many products in our daily lives. Recently, it is considered to be used for biomass power generation, and experts and the government are worried about the rapid increase in demand. Due to this rising international demand for palm oil, many forests have been lost in Borneo to expand the palm oil production.

Large forest fires broke out recently in Brazil and Australia, killing many forests and wildlife. Although not broadly reported, there are many forest fires in Borneo every year. According to a statement by the Indonesian government, in 2019, about 700 000 hectares of forests have been destroyed by fire in the Indonesian territory of Borneo. The cause of forest fires is artificial, which is mainly the burning out of the forest when a plantation is developed. Borneo is a land of peat swamps, which has a high carbon content. In these peat swamps is a first large-scale dry land for plantation. As a result, a fire is likely to occur, and the fire will spread deep underground, creating a situation where the fire cannot be extinguished manually unless it rains heavily. Persistent drought due to climate change has also created forest fires that continued to burn for more than three months in 2015.

The conversion of plantations as well as forest fires have led to the rapid loss of vast areas of forest over the past few decades. According to one study, the forest area of ​​Borneo, which accounted for about 76% in 1973, fell to nearly 53% in 2010. Another study found that between 2000 and 2017, the forest area lost was around 6 million ha (14%).

Some information about eco tours in Borneo

Borneo eco tours is a sustainable tour company which is currently engaged with Travelife for the ecotour certification process. With 25 years of experience and a growing team of guides, Borneo Eco Tours offers several destination-  specific packages, which can be narrowed down by preferred activity such as farm stays, cave safari’s, wildlife treks, kayaking and bicycle tours to name a few.

Borneo eco tours are suitable for travellers who can speak english. Tours can vary in length from day trips to several days and overnight stays. However you plan your ecotour activities, keep your eyes open for the orangutans! 

~ Homestay in the woods ~

The experience-based eco tour recommended to learn about such problems of deforestation on Borneo Island is the “Borneo Island Eco Tour Homestay in the Woods”. An ecotour which is organized by the group that thinks about life with orangutans and forests.

The “Borneo Eco Tour Homestay in the Woods” is one example of ecotours in Borneo organized by Japanese NGO, HUTAN GROUP. This tour is scheduled for approximately one week in duration. In the 2020 eco tour (*currently on hiatus due to the influence of coronavirus) consists of a tour of an orangutan conservation facility in Tanjung Puting National Park, a visit to an oil palm plantation, a visit to the site of a forest fire and a visit around the local area. It is a fulfilling itinerary where one can enjoy activities such as forest conservation activities with the local residents.

“Borneo Island Eco Tour Forest Homestay” is a tour where one can enjoy a different world, such as encountering wild animals and visiting palm oil plantations. There is a certain charm in “interaction with local people” and travellers are able to learn so much about the destination.

Homestay possibilities at a local house

Judging from the eco tour title “Homestay in the woods”, participants of this tour will be  participating in a home stay at the local home of  the residents of the coastal Tanjung Harapan Village, which is  the destination of this tour. It’s the charm of a homestay that travellers can experience and enjoy the local lifestyle and savory home cooking.

Many locals do not use English, which means that the only communication method can be the local language and common gestures.The experience of jumping into an environment where one can’t understand the language can be intimidating at first, but by using gestures, emotions and facial expressions which are mostly universal (with the exception of a few hand gestures which depend greatly upon cultural basis) it is possible to create a common bond with those not speaking the same language. It will also be a memorable experience to experience the different cultures from one’s own native lifestyle and language environment through the homestay.

Interaction with local forest conservation organisation members

This is an exchange meeting with the members of the village youth group who are engaged in local forest restoration activities. Currently, they are enthusiastically working on forest conservation activities, but some of the members have been previously involved in illegal logging activities. Why are they working on forest conservation now? Ecotourism efforts have helped allow for locals to receive a living wage without engaging in illegal activities. In doing so, it has created a chance to listen to the thoughts of the young people who are committed to forest conservation, and to give travellers an opportunity to think about what kind of crisis the tropical forest is facing now, and the connection between that crisis and our lives.

Eco tours are recommended because they contribute to the local economy.

Thus far, people from various backgrounds have participated in these eco tours, ranging from junior high school students to those retired and happy travellers. It is common for the tour guests to have returned to take the tours again. It’s nice to be able to stay connected with the local people even upon returning home. It will surely continue to expand one’s worldview, not only during the tour but also afterwards.

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