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Saving a Stronghold for the Critically Endangered Bornean Orangutan

Indonesia

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  • Critically Endangered Bornean Orangutan. Photo by Bernat Ripoll/ BNF

The Rungan River Peat Swamp Forest is a vast mosaic of threatened peat swamp and lowland rainforest in southern Borneo. Fruit-rich peat swamps support very high densities of Bornean Orangutans, and this area is home to 2,000 individuals (4 percent of the global population). The area also supports substantial populations of other imperiled endemic species such as the Endangered Bornean White-bearded Gibbon and Proboscis Monkey as well as the rare Flat-headed Cat and the bizarre Otter Civet.

The Rungan River landscape is one of the largest regions of lowland forest in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) that is currently unprotected and at grave risk of destruction. In addition, Rungan is at risk from conversion to oil palm and acacia plantations, so immediate action is required to protect this key area. Rainforest Trust and local partner Borneo Nature Foundation seek $778,686 to permanently overturn logging concessions and designate 385,000 acres as a permanent protected area.

Biodiversity

  • Endangered Bornean White-bearded Gibbon. Photo by Bernat Ripoll/BNF

Preliminary surveys indicate that the area supports many of Borneo’s lowland species. Notably, this area is home to 4 percent of the global population of Critically Endangered Bornean Orangutans. Habitat loss is the most intense threat facing orangutans, so protecting this swath of forest is a vital step in securing orangutan survival. Eight other primate species, including the Endangered Bornean White-bearded Gibbon, are also present in the area.

All five species of Bornean wild cats have been confirmed at this site, including the elusive Bornean Bay Cat. A camera trap recorded video of the extremely rare species, one of only a few recent records.  

Other mammals include the Endangered Hairy-nosed Otter and Otter Civet, as well as the Vulnerable Malayan Sun Bear. So far, 136 species of birds have been identified in the region, including the Endangered Storm’s Stork and the Vulnerable Wallace’s Hawk-eagle and Great Slaty Woodpecker.

Challenges

  • Forest fires. Photo by Bernat Ripoll/BNF

The Kalimantan lowlands of southern Borneo have been extensively cleared during the past quarter-century, primarily to expand plantation agriculture for palm oil and wood-pulp and through massive forest fires in drained peat swamp forests. These landscape changes have led to serious pressure on lowland habitats and associated species. This includes the Bornean Orangutan, which is forecasted to suffer a population decrease of 86 percent over three generations as a result of this conversion. Less than 25 percent of the orangutan’s current range is protected and over half is slated for conversion to agriculture.

Communities

  • Children from Rungan villages. Photo by Bernat Ripoll/BNF

The Dayak Ngaju is the dominant indigenous group in the Rungan and Kahayan rivers in Central Kalimantan, and many direct descendants of  the original village founders still live in the area. Until as recently as a decade ago, they were still the most populous group in Central Kalimantan but are now outnumbered by economic migrants from Java and other islands. Livelihoods in the region include fishing, farming, rubber cultivation, collection of forest products such as damar (tree resin) and rattan and gold mining.

The Dayak Ngaju do not have a system of forest ownership. Instead, the resources are free for all to use and the forest plays an important role in their traditional animist religions. This has put the Dayak Ngaju at conflict with the Indonesian government, which claimed all unoccupied land as government land at the time of independence and then leased that land out to timber and plantation concessions. Communities in this region are vocal in their desire to have village forests declared as protected areas to prevent destruction of their natural resources. This includes the largest village community on the Rungan River, Mungku Baru, who first invited our partner to the region.

Solutions

  • Fighting forest fires. Photo by Bernat Ripoll/BNF

Rainforest Trust seeks $778,686 to support our partner’s efforts to protect 385,000 acres of lowland rainforest and permanently overturn logging concessions. Nearly all protected areas in the Central Kalimantan lowlands are in peat swamp habitat. This habitat is important, carbon-rich and under serious threat from annual forest fires, exacerbated by drainage, encroachment and climate change. Protecting more non-swamp (dryland) rainforest habitat is essential to ensure both that a range of habitats are protected and to avoid placing all conservation hopes on peatland protection. Despite this, there are no major protected areas in either the lowland dryland rainforest habitat-types (e.g., nutrient-poor kerangas forest) that occur between the northern coastal peatlands or the southern mountain chain, such as by the Rungan River landscape.

Our local partner is still exploring different options for protected area designation in the region, but all approaches under consideration will be community-managed.

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