Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Geography and Nature

From a geological point of view the island of Borneo is relatively young having formed approximately 12, 000 years ago. A buckling of the earth's crust about 15 million years ago caused layers of limestone, sandstone and mudstone to form a submerged seascape. Then movement of the Earth's tectonic plates about three million years ago, during the Pliocene epoch, forced a large part of the submerged seascape to rise up from the bottom of the ocean and form a large landmass known as Sundaland. Towards the end of the Great Ice Age, about 12, 000 years ago, ice in the equatorial regions started to melt and Sundaland, which also encompassed islands we today know as Java, Sumatra and the Malay peninsula, became largely submersed and Borneo was formed. However the island has an ancient core (Palaeozoic era or older) to which material was accreted during the Mesozoic and early Cenozoic eras.
Today Borneo is typified by extensive mountain ranges covered in primary and secondary jungle. Huge river systems flow from their sources to the sea via thousands of tributaries. Waterfalls, raging rapids, poring hot springs and wide calm rivers are found all over Borneo. None of the vast range of mountains in Borneo are volcanically active but instead are typified with dramatic limestone outcrops, the same limestone that has given rise to the numerous and famous cave systems, such as the Gomantong and Mulu caves. In Brunei and Kalimantan, the Indonesian state in Borneo, and the largest, coastal areas are typified with mangrove and mud or peat swamps, the same is true for the Malaysian state of Sarawak. It is only on the outer islands and in the state of Sabah, the second Malaysian state of Borneo, where miles of pristine white sand beaches can be found.
Whilst palm oil planting and logging activities inevitably occur the Malay Government is largely able to control them, unlike in the neighbouring Indonesian province of Kalimantan. Large areas of rainforest have been set aside as conservation areas and approximately 20% of Sabah and Sarawak is primary jungle, untouched since its formation thousands of years ago.

Fauna and Flora
Malaysian Borneo is blessed with some of the world's most breathtaking wildlife. With many areas of primary jungle unexplored and numerous coral reefs unvisited, new species are discovered every year. In fact in 2008 WWF published a report that showed at least 52 new species of animal and plant were discovered in Borneo during 2007. The outstanding species diversity and high number of endemic species can be attributed to Borneo's geographical location. During the ice ages of the Pleistocene Borneo's higher altitude and proximity to the equatorial belt allowed the island to avoid the mass extinctions of the more southern and northern latitudes. Since then the inaccessibility of Borneo's plentiful habitats has allowed many of them to exist in isolation.
Amongst the most exciting mammals to see in Borneo are the Borneo pygmy elephant, the smallest of all elephant species. The Clouded leopard and the Bay Cat are just a few of the elusive felines, they share the jungle habitat with Sun Bears and Banteng (wild ox), amongst many others. Although very rarely sighted it is still known the in the heart of the Danum rainforest the mysterious Borneo rhinoceros can be found, a species that until recently was considered extinct. Borneo also has 10 species of Primate, of course the most famous of which is the Orang utan. The Proboscis Monkey, named because of the size of the male's noise, is an endemic species. Two species of macaque, the long and short tail, can be seen all around Borneo. Less easy to find but often heard in the jungle are the gibbons. Smaller but just as acrobatic are tarsiers and slow lories, langurs and leaf monkeys.
There are more than 500 species of bird on Borneo. Some are extremely rare and are only seen, if at all, in their habitats. For example the Kinabalu magpie which can only be found in the higher regions of Mt Kinabalu and Trus Madi mountains. Other rarities include the Bulwer's pheasant and Argus pheasant, Giant pitta, and Bornean bristlehead. All the endemic birds of Borneo are represented in Sabah. The most famous of these, the hornbills, are particularly beautiful, they have a majestic quality about them that leaves you in awe after a sighting. There is also a large variety of raptors including the more common sea eagles and Brahminy kites. Beautiful birds which are rare elsewhere in the world can be found in abundance here, such as the four species of kingfisher, radiantly beautiful and fast flying these birds are often just seen as a flash of colour zipping past you. Herons and Egrets are very common here too. The water buffalos are almost always accompanied by the Cattle Egret who feeds from parasites it finds on the buffalo.
Borneo is home to countless reptiles. Numerous species of lizards, crocodiles, fresh and salt water turtles, tortoises, snakes and frogs to name but a few. Some of the more famous of the 160 species of snake include the reticulated python, arguably the largest snake in the world with individuals found up to 30ft long. Of the venomous snakes the King Cobra, the longest venomous snake in the world, his cousin the Common or Malay cobra and a large group of pit vipers are common around Borneo, although hard to find. The more frequent encounters with reptiles in Borneo occur in lesser populated areas, in the large, sparsely inhabited rivers salt water crocodiles can still be found, while in the peat-swamp forests a sighting of the false gharial, a medium sized crocodile with a bulb on the end of it nose, is always amazing.
Sabah's flora is really quite astonishing. Due to extensive mountain ranges in Sabah many of the species are endemic not just to Borneo but to Sabah as well. The most famous of these is the worlds largest flower the Rafflesia. There are only a few places where there is a good chance to see these plants bloom, the Poring Hot Springs area and the Rafflesia Conservation Area. Many species of Pitcher plant, the Nepenthes, are native to Borneo too. These carnivorous plants are largely found in the higher altitudes although some species can be found in shaded areas lower altitudes. The largest of these species can hold up to 4 liters of digestive liquid.
Whilst there are more than 100 species of commercially grown and hybridised orchids Sabah is home to the world's largest diversity of natural orchids, with over 1000 species growing in the wild. Some of the most sort after and rarest species can be found here, although listed under CITES removal of orchids from the wild is strictly controlled.
Many floral species provide a plethora of building and medicinal uses. Numerous herbs, roots leaves and bark are used by tribes to cure a variety of illnesses and as a source of food and water. Building materials include bamboo, Belian (iron wood) and teak as well as rattan, an incredibly strong vine which is stripped and used to tether virtually anything.
Apart from the jungle trekking the best place to visit and learn about the flora of Borneo is Sabah Agricultural Park. Located near Tenom, about 4 hours drive form Kota Kinabalu ,Sabah Agricultural Park offers a series of fascinating gardens, as well as other recreation such as boating, cycling and camping. Several gardens are dedicated to orchids and the use of economic crops, the park also has a Garden of Evolution.

No comments:

Post a Comment