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Wehea Forest, East Kalimantan

INDONESIA | Thursday, 5 February 2009 | Views [1969]

We are here

We are here

The Nature Conservancy – Saving the Last Great Places on Earth.  For TNC Indonesia this means protecting some of the most biologically diverse coral reefs and lowland forests on the planet.  A single hectare of forest in Borneo, for example, contains more species of trees than all of North America.  Illegal logging and expanding oil palm plantations are threatening the forests while over-fishing and destructive fishing practices, like using dynamite, have put the reefs in peril.

TNC is working with industry, other NGOs, national and local governments and communities to stop the destruction of the rain forest.  Their goal is to protect 250,000 square kilometers (about 90,000 square miles) of forest in Kalimantan.  It is a difficult and expensive process to conduct the scientific studies that we hope will convince the government that these virgin forests are important and to demonstrate that sustainable logging practices actually increase profits.

We will spend the next three weeks at the TNC research site in the Wehea forest.  We are not scientists or even especially gifted birders but when we were offered the opportunity to conduct a bird census we jumped at it.  Wehea encompasses 38,000 hectares of protected virgin forest and is one of the most important orangutan habitats in Kalimantan though the orange apes are rarely seen. 

We met the staff at TNC Tropical Forest Initiative headquarters in Balikpappan where they briefed us on their work and arranged our travel permits and flight to the field office in Berau.  TNC Berau is at the sharp end of the stick when it comes to forest conservation in Malaysia.  As Fahri explained it they have a seemingly impossible job.  The government sees marine conservation as both sexy and profitable, while protecting the forest offers little potential for tourists’ dollars and conflicts with the lucrative lumber, coal mining and oil palm industries.  Most Indonesians, including the government officials, have never seen an orangutan and can’t believe that people will spend money to see them in the forest.

Our keepers for the next three weeks are Sugi and Mex.  They took us to the grocery where we picked up enough food for two weeks when we will be resupplied.  As expected this included three 10kg sacks of rice.  We paid for some emergency rations; bread, crackers, peanut butter and apples “just in case.”  Joko picked us up at 8 AM and the five of us squeezed into the extended cab 4X4 for the trip to Wehea forest.  As if the tight quarters weren’t enough, all three are smokers!  I was squished in the middle back seat all morning but we shifted around after lunch when I got a window and Connie moved to shotgun.

An hour into the trip Joko learned the direct road was “broken” which forced us into a long, rough, hilly, twisty, unpaved detour.  Just to make things more interesting it began to rain making for a slippery mess.  It has been a long time since I was carsick!  It took ten hours to travel the 275 km to Wehea, an average speed of just under 20 mph.  It’s no wonder forest tourism hasn’t caught on.  We did see a civet cat and several hornbills – small reward – before we arrived and unloaded the truck.  We haven’t figured everything out yet but the facility looks nice. 


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