Sumatra and Borneo: Saving the Subspecies

Alison Barrett, Contributor

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Indonesia is home to thousands of beguiling islands, many with culture and natural beauty incomparable to anything else in the world. The islands of Sumatra and Borneo are some of the largest islands in Indonesia. Apart from Sumatra’s natural wonders, its forests are home to many of the world’s rarest plant and animal species.

Unfortunately, many of these rare animals are on the road to extinction. Some of these animals include the Sumatran Elephant, the Sumatran Rhino, the Sumatran Tiger, the Bornean Orangutan and the Sumatran Orangutan. Rampant poaching and habitat destruction have played a huge role in the demise of these beautiful creatures. Sumatra is the only place on Earth where tigers, rhinos, elephants, and orangutans coexist.

Sumatra is home to over 200 mammal and 500 bird species, many of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Deforestation puts many of these animals at serious risk of extinction. World Wildlife Foundation estimates that the forests in Sumatra have gone from 50% to 25% from 1985 to 2008. The deforestation in Sumatra is mostly a byproduct of logging and clearing for palm oil and acacia plantations. The PT Agra Bumi Niaga, a large palm oil plantation and company, has been accused several times of growing oil palms on illegally deforested land, after the Aceh government banned forest clearance for palm oil plantations in the area in June 2016.

Sumatra isn’t the only island in the region facing extreme deforestation. Borneo, an island shared by Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia, is facing similar problems to Sumatra. The Bornean Orangutan is one of the most critically endangered species in the world, along with the Sumatran Orangutan. Both subspecies are struggling to live with their habitats being destroyed. The Bornean Orangutan population has decreased 50% over the past 60 years, and the species’ habitat has been reduced by at least 55% over the past 20 years.

The Sumatran Rhino is the smallest of the rhino species and is the only Asian rhino that has two horns. The Sumatran Rhino is also the closest living rhinoceros species to the long-extinct wooly rhino. In Malaysian Borneo, wildlife officials of the Bornean Rhino Alliance and Sabah Wildlife Department are struggling to save the life of Iman, the last female Sumatran Rhino in Malaysia. Even after the many efforts to save the Sumatran Rhino, there are no more than 100 left in the world.

The Sumatran Elephant is also at serious risk of extinction. These elephants play a huge role in regulating their ecosystems. They eat plants and deposit seeds wherever they go. One of the unique subspecies of elephants is the Borneo Pygmy Elephant. These elephants are baby-faced with oversized ears, rotund bellies, and tails so long they sometimes drag on the ground as they walk. The pygmy elephants also have a sweeter disposition than the common Asian elephants. DNA evidence proves that these small elephants were isolated about 300,000 years ago from their cousins on mainland Asia and Sumatra. These elephants have since evolved to be the smallest elephants in Asia.

Indonesia is still one of the leading carbon dioxide producers in the world. Other countries around the world have offered support for Indonesia’s, now common, forest fires. The high demand for things like paper and palm oil put the fate of Indonesia’s forests in the hands of the Indonesian government and agricultural/industrial companies. To learn how to help save the Indonesian forests, and the animals that depend on them, you can visit www.saynotopalmoil.com, www.rainforest-rescue.org, www.ran.org and www.greenpeace.org/usa/forests/indonesia/

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