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Story Publication logo September 1, 2017

Borneo's Vanishing Forests: African Oil Palms


Early morning view of a primary growth forest in East Kalimantan, Borneo. Image by Kent Wagner. Indonesia, 2016.

Borneo's ecological devastation involves logging, mining, palm oil cultivation, habitat loss, and...


Borneo is home to the Earth's oldest rainforests. Some of them are as much as 130 million years old. With that much time to develop, the flora and fauna have become as unique as they are diverse. Among the many peculiar creatures, the forests are home to clouded leopards, giant squirrels, pygmy elephants, flying frogs, walking catfish, sun bears, cobras, rhinos and orangutans.

Borneo is an island; in fact it is the world's third largest island. It is roughly the size of Texas and thanks to as much as 150 inches of rain each year it hosts one of the world's greatest assemblages of trees and plants. There are 15,000 species of flowering plants, a third of those are endemic. Unfortunately, the forests which house these many unique plants and creatures are rapidly disappearing.

The practice of slash and burn, also known as swidden agriculture, is the most common method used to clear land for planting. It also produces massive amounts of green house gasses and is contributing to our planet's changing climate, but that is another story. Palm oil production is at the center of this effort to clear the land. Deforestation from oil palm plantations in Indonesia alone averages about 300,000 hectares—or an area about half the size of Delaware, each year. It is estimated that country has lost 31 million hectares of forests since 1990. (As a comparison, the whole of Germany is a little less than 37 million hectares in size.)

For at least the last several millennia, the Dayak tribes have been intimately tied to the Bornean forests. As those forests disappear, the traditional Dayak way of life is also vanishing. In August 2016 photographer and filmmaker Kent Wagner traveled to Borneo to document the Dayak and their remaining homeland seeking to understand the depth of the problems facing the Dayak and to shed light on the deforestation that is threatening both the forests and the people who have lived in them for thousands of years.



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Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change
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Extractive Industries

Extractive Industries

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