History of WWF in Borneo

A conservation journey through the decades

From muddy boot plant surveys to high-level policy efforts, WWF has probably deployed most conceivable approaches to ensure that Borneo’s biodiversity is protected for future generations.
Over the years, we have gradually built on our experiences to expand the range and scope of our conservation approaches. Today, with the Heart of Borneo programme, all these efforts have culminated into our most ambitious target to date – working with the governments of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia to conserve and sustainably develop the Heart of Borneo.


1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | into the new millennium…

Surveys to lay down the groundwork

WWF’s early emphasis in Borneo was on discovering more about the island’s flagship species - pygmy elephants, Sumatran rhinoceros and orang-utans. Starting in the early 1960s, WWF carried out orang-utan surveys and studies in Bako National Park in Sarawak, and ecological surveys of the Sumatran rhinoceros later on in that decade.  
In the mid-1970s, WWF-Malaysia surveyed the little-known Danum Valley and recommended that it be made a National Park. Today, thanks to help from the Sabah Foundation, the area has developed into a Conservation Area, and one of the world’s premier research sites for tropical forest ecology.

Protected areas appear on the map

The groundbreaking “Faunal Survey of Sabah” followed in the late 1970s, yielding key information on wildlife distribution throughout the State. It also catalyzed the establishment of protected areas such as Tabin and Kulamba Wildlife Sanctuaries.
Bornean Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) family, parents with calf. Danum Valley ... / ©: WWF-Canon / A. Christy WILLIAMS
Bornean Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) family, parents with calf. Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, North Borneo, Malaysia.
© WWF-Canon / A. Christy WILLIAMS
Over the years, the geographic scope of our surveys expanded. In 1981, a survey of the proposed Lanjak-Entimau Sanctuary in Sarawak led to it becoming a sanctuary 2 years after. The project pioneered both aerial surveys of orang-utan populations and conservation community work.

The survey was followed up, in collaboration with the Sarawak Forest Department, with proposals to establish Batang Ai and Pulong Tau National Parks. These efforts were fully supported by the local Dayak people.

By the mid-1980s, WWF was helping government agencies with full-fledged conservation programmes. Meanwhile, similar efforts were carried out across the border in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo).

The picture widens

As the 1980s drew to a close, WWF’s conservation work began focussing on specific socio-economic issues. For example, in 1989 we helped the Forest Department to evaluate the impact of selective logging on the wildlife and people of Sarawak’s hill dipterocarp forests.

As a result of this effort, the State Government took up a WWF proposal and gave powers to the local people through an Honorary Wildlife Rangers scheme that has very recently been replicated in Sabah.

We have also helped other conservation organizations get started. Since the early 1980s, WWF-Malaysia co-operated closely with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), helping to establish WCS in Sarawak through joint work on mangrove conservation and training of young professionals. By the 1990s, WCS had a full-fledged programme running in the State, which continues to this day to play a very important role for the future of Sarawak’s wildlife.
 / ©: Abdulla Kazim
Batang Ai, Malaysia
© Abdulla Kazim

… the importance of protected areas

One of the longest-running WWF protected area projects on Borneo is in Kayan Mentarang National Park, Kalimantan. With an area of 1.4 million ha , this is one of the largest connected areas of tropical rainforest in Southeast Asia, forming a significant part of the Heart of Borneo.

In collaboration with partners, WWF developed a plan for “collaborative management” of the park that involves local communities and the government. This was a breakthrough, as it is the first example of such cooperation in Indonesia. Now, efforts are underway to implement a collaborative management model in other protected areas as well.

Two other important areas in Kalimantan where WWF played catalytic roles in helping set up protected areas are Betung Kerihun National Park (where WWF has been active since 1995) and Sebangau National Park (since 2001).

A park that gives life to 5 major rivers

Betung Kerihun National Park is the source of at least 5 major rivers and is the forest home to a large population of orang-utans. In 1995, under the auspices of the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and in cooperation with the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI), WWF began a biodiversity assessment and preparations for a 25-year (2000–2024) management plan, which were formally required for the newly established national park.

For WWF, the focus is now on improving management effectiveness of the park, protecting orang-utans and promoting sustainable livelihood for the local people through agro-forestry and ecotourism initiatives.

Beyond protected areas

WWF’s work in recent decades has not been restricted to protected areas. We have also embraced responsible management of natural resources as an approach with considerable potential for conservation.

For example, WWF’s work on oil palm is a critical element in land-use planning. On the ground, WWF-Malaysia works with plantation companies to find ways to maintain eastern Sabah’s “Corridor of Life”.

A land capability assessment that was commissioned by WWF-Indonesia in 2005 demonstrated the value of maintaining Kalimantan’s forested highlands for their biodiversity and water-catchment roles. Thanks to this assessment, the Indonesian Government halted plans to clear  the forests for what was proposed as the world’s largest oil palm plantation.
Find out more

Understanding plant diversity

In Sabah’s highlands, Ulu Padas, which is one of the most important areas for plant biodiversity in Asia, is included in the Heart of Borneo area. Since September 2001, WWF has carried out surveys and community work there to fill gaps in our understanding of plant diversity distribution and to promote Plant Conservation Areas (PCAs).

WWF is also making recommendations for the wise management and use of these areas, and supporting and enhancing local skills to manage the PCAs.

Addressing the impact of global markets

As the scope of WWF’s work has expanded over the decades, our projects have also addressed trade-related issues.

Investigations carried out by WWF in 1999 and early 2000 confirmed the smuggling and domestic flows of illegal wood from Kalimantan and Sumatra.  This was followed by the EC-Indonesia Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) project, which contributes to addressing illegal logging and associated trade through trade measures and development co-operation.

A consortium, including WWF-Indonesia is supporting and encouraging the Government of Indonesia and other stakeholders to reduce trade in illegal timber and non-sustainable practices in the forestry sector.

Recently, our efforts to promote responsible forest trade have reached new milestones. In 2006, the WWF-Indonesia Forest and Trade Network helped certify Sumalindo II, a forest concession of 267,000 ha located in the Heart of Borneo, East Kalimantan (find out more).

The certification was made according to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the leading international standard of good forest management. More concessions will hopefully follow.

Wildlife conservation, a continuing focus

The Sabah Orang Utan, Rhinoceros and Elephant Landscape project in Sabah  and the Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy, launched in Malaysia in 2000, are part of WWF’s ongoing efforts to protect the natural habitat these species require on Borneo.

An all-encompassing approach

The range of conservation efforts to date provides a solid foundation to develop an integrated, large-scale programme – the Heart of Borneo.

The idea of a transborder forest conservation initiative for Borneo was first discussed in October 2000. The idea, which seemed hugely ambitious at the time, was to link up the existing and proposed parks and sanctuaries in Borneo’s forested interior through international co-operation across borders.

In November 2003, WWF hosted a meeting in Singapore to see if other conservation organisations would share in the vision. The meeting was attended by groups such as Conservation International (CI), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC); and it was agreed that the concept for a transboundary conservation area should be promoted, with WWF taking the lead. This area became known as the Heart of Borneo.

Today, the Heart of Borneo programme is leading the way for international collaboration between the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam, to conserve this vast forested landscape and to ensure the long-term sustainable management of one of the world’s most precious biodiversity treasures.
Latest news & publications
Milestones

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required