Eco Voluntourism in Borneo

Eco Voluntourism in Borneo
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Exotic wildlife is Borneo's number one tourism drawcard, but the region is also home to some of the world's most endangered species.

ORANG-UTAN

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Known as the man of the forest, a sighting of this swinging redhead is high on the agenda of most visitors to Borneo. For good reason too, as wild orang-utans are found only in Borneo and Sumatra and their existence is increasingly tenuous. Historically, the apes have had the misfortune of inhabiting tracts of land that humans use for housing, farming and palm oil plantations. If that's not tough enough, the world's largest tree-climbing mammal is also hunted for food and illegal trafficking. The World Wildlife Fund predicts that wild orang-utans may be extinct within a few decades, so the work being done now to protect them is crucial.

What's being done:

Borneo has many orang-utan sanctuaries that care for orphaned and trafficked apes. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah allows visitors to interact with the rehabilitated primates in a semi-wilderness environment. At feeding times – when the apes are provided with bananas and milk – a sighting is guaranteed.

Orphaned orang-utans have a tough time as the bond between mother and baby lasts for seven years and is one of the closest in the animal kingdom. Tourism is crucial to the survival of the species, improving awareness and providing a financial incentive for their protection.

Lend a hand:

For clients who want to help some of our shaggy relatives, Orang-utan Odysseys offer tours where participants must raise a minimum of $1500 each before embarking on the trip. The fundraising allows participants to access the Care Centre where they can hold and play with the young orang-utans. The funds are then distributed to orang-utan initiatives such as the Australian Orang-utan Project. For more information, visit www.orangutanodysseys.com

GREEN AND HAWKSBILL TURTLES

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Beaches are crucial to the survival of turtles, who swap the sea for the shore only to lay their eggs. They return to the same beaches year after year and are very sensitive to changes in the coastal environment. This is compounded by the hunting of turtles and their eggs for meat and the illegal trade of hawksbill turtle shells. Another great strain on the turtle population is their accidental capture in fishing nets.

What's being done:

It's vital that egg-laying beaches are protected and monitored. This work happens in the aptly named Turtle Island Park – three islands that lie off the coast of Sandakan in Malaysian Borneo. Green turtles lay their eggs between July and October while Hawksbill turtles prefer to deposit theirs from February through to April. The egg-laying takes one to two hours and is an unforgettable encounter with nature. The mother uses her flippers to excavate a sand chamber and appears to be crying as glands behind her eyes secrete salt during the laying process.

Lend a hand:

Turtle landings happen at night so an overnight stay is a must. If you visit during peak season you are likely to see the turtles scooting up the sand to dig and deposit. At other times, you can observe the baby turtles tackle the life-or-death drama of their first swim. It's survival of the fittest or perhaps the luckiest as seagulls wait to snatch the hatchlings on their maiden voyage. Visitors can watch the rangers tag each new hard-shelled arrival with a label that reads "return to Turtle Island Park". Adventure Destinations offers a four-day Turtles, Orang-utans and Wildlife Safari, which includes an overnight stay on Turtle Island, is priced from $1013. For more information, visit www.adventuredestinations.com.au

BORNEO PYGMY ELEPHANT

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With less than 1500 pygmy elephants in the wild today, this lumbering creature is in danger of being wiped off the genetic map. The population is threatened by logging and human development that reduces their access to food – and with a staple diet of over 150kg of plant matter each day they need a lot of it to survive. Although placid, they are renowned for being hungry, taking it to the extreme with their love of the stinky durian fruit which they roll in mud and then eat whole, spikes and all.

What's being done:

Two thirds of the pygmy elephant population is found in Sabah, while the remaining cluster is found in Indonesian Kalimantan. A study by the World Wildlife Fund found that the Indonesian population was too small and fragmented to support a viable long term habitat. Their focus has therefore turned to maintaining a Corridor of Life to enable the creatures to travel between broken up forests in the Sabah region safely. The Malaysian government also has plans to open an elephant sanctuary in Sabah.

Lend a hand:

Volunteer organisation GVI offers travellers the opportunity to work with the Orang Sungai community to protect their home – as the surrounding rainforest habitat is under threat from the effect of logging and palm oil plantations. Located on the Kinabatangan River in Borneo, the site is home to a diverse array of animal species, including orang-utans, pygmy elephants and proboscis monkeys. The two-week trip is priced from $1692. For more information, visit www.gviaustralia.com.au

Email the Travel Weekly team at traveldesk@travelweekly.com.au

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