A new species of insect, animal or plant is discovered every month in Borneo, conservation group WWF said this week as it warned that logging and plantations threatened the fragile “Heart of Borneo” ecosystem.
“Between 1994 and 2004, at least 361 new species have been discovered in Borneo,” said WWF Indonesia director Mubariq Ahmad.
“In the past 10 years, there is discovery of new species every month. We had found 260 new insects, 50 plants, seven frogs, snakes, six lizards, 30 fresh water fish, five crabs, two snakes and a toad,” he added.
Recent exotic discoveries include poisonous sticky frogs, forest walking catfish able to travel short distances out of water and the transparent glass catfish.
Large animals have also yielded surprises, with the Borneo orangutan found to be a distinct species to its Sumatran cousin and the island’s pygmy elephants recently reclassified as a separate subspecies.
“The discoveries of the new species in the area proves that Borneo, one of the world’s last remaining rain forests, is among the most important biodiversity areas in the world,” said Ahmad.
WWF International launched its Heart of Borneo program two years ago, covering a 22 million hectare rain forest shared by Indonesiaâ€™s Kalimantan, Malaysia and the oil-rich kingdom of Brunei.
Ahmad, who has visited the area numerous times, said its forests were a major source of water for Borneo, describing them as the island’s “water tank.”
“If the forest is destroyed, the whole island will be devastated because most of the rivers on the island originate here,” he said.
Ahmad warned that logging and palm oil plantation activities risk destroying the biodiversity in the area but acknowledged that the three Southeast Asian countries have committed to protect it.
“We were alarmed by some efforts to expand large-scale palm oil plantations in the area but Jakarta stopped it. There are also logging activities but we want to work with them to ensure sustainable development,” he said.
Ahmad said the upland area was not suitable for palm oil and was working with timber companies to ensure the environment was not destroyed.
“Oil palm plantations and logging are current primary threats to the forest,” he said.
Large areas of forest are being cleared for commercial uses, including rubber, oil palm and pulp production, the WWF said.
Ahmad said Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei had agreed to protect the area and would sign a formal agreement early next year to ensure sustainable development of the forest.
“There is political will by them to protect the Heart of Borneo forest area,” he said.
“Losing the Heart of Borneo would be an unacceptable tragedy not only for Borneo, but for all Asia and the planet,” the WWF said.