Borneo Has Lost 30 Percent of Its Forest in the Past 40 Years

Borneo’s tropical forests have fallen at twice the rate as the rest of the world’s felled rainforests

Photo: Louise Murray/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis

In 1970, 75 percent of Borneo was covered in tropical rainforest. But in just four short decades that figure has been reduced by 30 percent, according to a new analysis published in PLoS One. That means Borneo is losing rainforest at a rate twice that of the rest of the world's tropical jungles, Newsweek points out

The study authors used satellite images and logging maps to arrive at these disturbing findings. Logging, oil palm plantations and forest fires are the three biggest culprits behind the rapid deforestation, they found. At the scientists write, "between 1980 and 2000 more round wood was harvested from Borneo than from Africa and the Amazon combined." Surprisingly, they point out, this study is the first to estimate island-wide forest clearance on Borneo - the third largest island in the world - since the 1970s. 

So what is at stake? Orangutans, for one. Around 1,500 orangutans live on Borneo, though their populations, too, have been drastically impacted due to human development. They've declined 50 percent over the past 60 years, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Borneo's rainforests are also some of the oldest in the world, housing Sumatran rhinos, Asian elephants and clouded leopards. 

The scale of Borneo's problem might stand out, but the problem, unfortunately, continues to plague most tropical rainforests around the world. As Smithsonian wrote last year: 

On a global scale, the planet lost 888,000 square miles of forest and gained 309,000 square miles of new forest between 2000 and 2012, a team of researchers led by remote sensing scientist Matthew Hansen of the University of Maryland College Park report today in Science. That’s a net forest loss equivalent to all the land in Alaska.

Likewise, a surefire way to ruin a good mood is to check out these maps created by Global Forest Watch depicting rates of deforestation over time. While they are crushingly depressing, the idea behind their development is actually a good one: this way, countries cannot say they didn't know they had a deforestation problem. But as Smithsonian pointed out, whether they choose to act on that cold, hard data is another question entirely. 

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