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Heart of Borneo

Orang-utans, pygmy elephants, Sumatran rhinos and clouded leopards are among the amazing species found in the forests of Borneo, the world’s third-largest island. But over the last few decades, Borneo has lost half its forests, including much of the really important lowland forest. That’s threatening wildlife, affecting the lives of people who depend on the forest resources, and fuelling climate change.

Bornean Pygmy elephants in the dense forest in the northeast tip of Borneo.

Why we're involved

Borneo’s forests are home to an amazing range of species. More than 600 bird species and an astonishing 15,000 types of plant are found there - and that’s just the ones we know about.

Large parts of the island’s interior are still relatively unknown, so there are sure to be many more species we haven’t discovered yet.

  • Three new species were identified from Borneo every month on average between 1994 and 2004.
The forests are vital for people too. Over 16 million people live on the island (speaking more than 200 languages), and half a million indigenous people still depend on the forests for edible and medicinal plants, fish, meat, building materials and water.

The highland forests are also the source of the island’s major rivers, bringing clean water to millions of people and the thriving industries in coastal towns.

Palm oil fruits await shipment

Over the past few decades much of Borneo’s lowland forest has been cleared for timber and to create plantations for palm oil and paper.

  • Between 1980 and 2000, it’s estimated that more timber was harvested from Borneo than was exported from the Amazon and Congo basins combined.
National and international demand for wood and products like palm oil mean the forest is still being cleared at a frightening rate. And new roads and infrastructure are making the destruction worse.

Borneo is also extremely rich in mineral deposits. Mining, especially for coal and gold, has expanded rapidly in recent years, and is set to increase further.

The loss of Borneo’s forests has another impact that affects all of us. Around 80% of Indonesia’s carbon emissions come from forest clearance and land use change. That’s a higher proportion than any other country, and is a major contributor to global warming.

Fan palm. Lowland rain forest. Borneo.

How we're helping

We’ve begun work to conserve a huge central area of the island known as the Heart of Borneo.

In 2007, with our support, the island’s three governments - Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia - committed to protect, manage and restore 220,000km2 of forests. That’s an area almost the size of the UK. It’s a historic agreement that will protect Borneo’s plants and animals, and conserve natural resources and water supplies.

Within the Heart of Borneo, we’re supporting efforts to protect orang-utans, elephants and rhinos. We want to see deforestation stop completely in areas that are particularly important for conservation.

We’re working with UK companies that buy timber and palm oil from Borneo (and anywhere else) to get them to commit to buying only goods that are from sustainable sources. And we’re working with other industries, like mining companies and investors, to reduce their environmental impact.

We’re also working with local communities to help them find alternative sources of income, to reduce the pressure they put on the forest.

Related links


Report - Borneo: treasure island at risk