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"Heart of Borneo" Conservation Initiative To Receive U.S. Funds

Project preserves equatorial rainforest in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei

02 August 2006
orangutan mother holding baby in left arm

An orangutan mother holds her 1-month-old baby. (© AP/WWP)

Washington -- The United States is supporting joint efforts by the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei Darussalam to establish the "Heart of Borneo" conservation plan, an initiative intended to protect biodiversity by preserving 220,000 square kilometers of equatorial rainforest on the island of Borneo, the Department of State said August 1.

The area protected by the project, which first was launched in March at a United Nations biodiversity conference in Curitiba, Brazil, includes parts of the territories of the three Bornean nations, reaching from the highlands along the Indonesian- Malaysian border into lower-lying areas in Brunei.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced July 28 that the U.S. government would donate $100,000 to help advance the project, which aims to reduce illegal logging and wildlife trafficking. The secretary was in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur for the annual Regional Forum ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

According to the State Department, the U.S. assistance funds will be disbursed through two organizations in consultation with the governments of the three Bornean countries. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is working with the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei at the national and local level to support the protection and sustainable development of forests in the region. The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) funds biodiversity conservation initiatives in Sarawak, Malaysia and West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

A recent report from WWF found that 361 new species have been discovered in the conservation area over the last 10 years.

The region is the source of 14 of the island's 20 major rivers and is considered one of the most important centers of biological diversity in the world. It is home to the orangutan, the largest tree-climbing mammal and the only great ape found in Asia, as well as gibbons, macaques, and other primate species. The eastern Sumatran rhinoceros, considered the most critically endangered rhinoceros species in the world, and the Bornean pygmy elephant live in the northeastern part of the conservation area.

WWF reports that small mammals in the region remain "severely understudied." The conservation area hosts about 90 different species of bats as well as a variety of squirrels, cats, civets and mongooses.

Rapid deforestation significantly has reduced Borneo's forest cover in recent decades. Only half of the original cover remains, down from 75 percent in the mid-1980s, WWF reports. The area's forests have been cleared for commercial use, including production of rubber, palm oil, and pulp.

Maintenance of the rainforest is essential to protecting the island's water supply, controlling droughts and fires, and stabilizing the ecosystems, as well as economies, of the lowland regions, according to WWF.

Cleared forests also have contributed to an increase in illegal wildlife trade, WWF says.

WWF and the three Bornean governments hope to finalize a "Heart of Borneo" declaration for signature before the end of 2006, the State Department announcement said.

The U.S. government has sponsored other conservation initiatives in recent years, according to the State Department. The President's Initiative Against Illegal Logging, launched in July 2003, proposed to spend $15 million to assist developing countries in combating illegal logging by promoting good governance, community-based action, technological development and better business practices.

In July 2005, the United States proposed that leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries address the effects of illegal logging on wildlife habitat and help developing countries enforce laws to prevent wildlife trafficking. This led to the formation of the Global Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking, a public-private partnership, in September 2005.

The full text of the State Department announcement on the "Heart of Borneo" initiative can be found at the department's Web site.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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