Posts Tagged ‘Earth Day’

5 Incredible Creatures You Might Find in Borneo

Limestone pinnacles, Mulu National Park
The opportunity to travel to faraway exotic destinations gives us unparalleled personal access to cultures, plants, animals and ecosystems we can’t experience at home. On this Earth Day, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate one of the most exotic, wild and scenic locations on our planet, Malaysian Borneo—a destination we’ve grown to know and love over the many years we’ve visited.

Borneo villagers © Tourism MalaysiaThe deep and mysterious jungles of Borneo have played host to headhunting tribes and giant man-like apes—and they are rumored to be the true setting for Mogli, Baloo and Sheer Khan in The Jungle Book. But for the modern-day explorer, Borneo is a unique treasure trove of biodiversity where the opportunities for discovery are limitless.

You can travel through scenic countryside lush with verdant rice paddies and tropical orchids. You can explore quaint tribal villages where entire communities live in a single longhouse and some still hunt by blow dart. You can discover birds with plumage that defy imagination, flowers with colors you’ve never conceived, and one special, orange primate that will hold a place in your heart forever. We are incredibly lucky to still have a place like Borneo—a place that maintains its unexplored, off-the-beaten-path feel while still being accessible to travelers like us.

And because of the untamed nature of the island, many species of rare, indigenous animals call Borneo home. So in honor of Earth Day 2016, we’ve compiled a list of five incredible creatures you might only find in Borneo.



Orangutans
1 The Bornean Orangutan

Every traveler to Borneo undoubtedly seeks profound encounters with orangutan, the most well known of the island’s inhabitants, with Borneo and Sumatra being the only places to view them in the wild.

The name itself is telling: orang meaning “person” and utan meaning “forest” in Malay and Indonesian. These “people of the forest” reside primarily in trees, building elaborate nests constructed of foliage and branches night after night. Noted by scientists for their intelligence, compared to other great ape species, orangutan use and make tools for different tasks, such as scratching their backs with a stick, or protecting themselves from the sun with giant leaves forming a canopy over their heads. An estimated 54,000 Bornean orangutan survive in the wild, offering plenty of opportunities for you to have your own chance encounter with these extraordinary animals.



Pygmy Elephants
2 The Borneo Pygmy Elephant

You can’t get much cuter than a pygmy elephant, also unique to Borneo. Even the fully matured pygmy elephant has a baby face with giant ears and a long tail that sweeps the ground. Partly because of their docile and passive nature, people long believed these miniature elephants were descended from a domesticated herd belonging to the Sultan of Sulu. Thanks to modern genetics, we know for sure that the pygmy elephant is a bona fide indigenous Borneo islander, which somehow got isolated some 300,000 years ago from its slightly larger cousins in other parts of Asia.



Sumatran Rhinos  Photo by Charles W. Hardin
3 The Sumatran Rhino

Even rarer than the pygmy elephant is the Sumatran rhino, the smallest living rhinoceros and the only Asian rhino with two horns. Also known as “hairy rhinos,” these endangered animals live in isolated pockets in the dense mountain forests of Borneo. There are so few left that they have only been spotted on infrared cameras. Until recently, that is, when the World Wildlife Federation was able to capture a young female Sumatran rhino—the first physical contact with humans in 40 years—with the intention of moving her to a protective sanctuary. Unfortunately, the young rhino died of a leg infection caused by a snare from an earlier poaching attempt. However, as a very thin silver lining, her successful capture and attempt at rehabilitation served as a crucial first step in an eventual long-term program to bring this species back to life.



Sunda Clouded Leopard
4 The Sunda Clouded Leopard

Another rarity of Borneo is the clouded leopard, a medium-sized wild cat found in the lowland rainforest areas, named for its stunning coat of large, cloud-like spots. Genetically unrelated to leopards as we know them, the clouded leopard of Borneo and Sumatra was reclassified in the last 10 years as a species distinct even from its mainland Malaysian clouded leopard cousins. On Borneo, the Sunda Clouded Leopard ranks as the largest predator on the island yet its hunting strategies, as well as breeding behaviors in the wild, are little known.



Spectacled Flower Pecker  Photo by R.E. Webster, Oriental Bird Club5 The Spectacled Flower Pecker

In 2009 biologists discovered a bird species previously unknown to science in Sabah, located in “the heart of Borneo,” a vast, biologically diverse rainforest area in the center of the island. The spectacled flower pecker flaunts white rings around the eyes and a white tuft resembling a stripe down its chest. It rarely flies beneath the canopy, preferring instead to feast on fruit high in the trees, and has yet to be seen again since the first sighting (This image is the only one we could find!). The Spectacled Flower Pecker highlights an amazing and encouraging fact about Borneo: scientists discover an estimated three new species of wildlife every month.

Unfortunately, as with many tropical areas around the world, the rare and exquisite flora and fauna of Malaysian Borneo are losing their habitats due to deforestation for commercial timber and the planting of palm oil plantations. And the increase in these activities has also enhanced the illegal wildlife trade, as cleared forests offer easier access to remote areas. We hope after reading this you’ll consider the absolutely incredible array of animals on Borneo, and everywhere on earth, and think about our responsibility as humans and world travelers to preserve them—on Earth Day and beyond.



Interested in traveling to Borneo? While we can’t guarantee sightings of the spectacled flower pecker or Sunda clouded leopard, we do offer two tours to Malaysian Borneo, with itineraries designed to immerse you in the incredible flora, fauna and human cultures of this exotic island. Check out those tours here.

Happy Earth Day from Friendly Planet Travel

Here at Friendly Planet Travel, we try to make every day Earth Day. Our tours are designed to show our travelers some of the most beautiful sights of the world. So we must take care of them. That’s why we’re firm believers in sustainable travel. FP_Recycle.jpg
Sustainable travel is a much-discussed concept that is, actually, a great deal more complex than recycling your trash, or trying to use your hotel towels more than once. Not that those aren’t cardinal rules of all decent world travelers, but if you live in New York and want to visit Thailand, there’s no way to avoid the long, environmentally costly flight.
But it is possible to tread softly once at your destination. And by treading softly, I mean treating not only the land, but the people, with respect and dignity.
Friendly Planet Travel tours all rely on local companies, local guides, and as many locally owned and run hotels and attractions as we can possibly arrange, so that the people who live in the places we’re visiting enjoy the benefit of our visits. By manifestly supporting local communities, they will become better stewards of the resources that give them back a decent living.
We also believe in supporting local communities by contributing to important local projects that provide material help, like digging wells, supplying schools, and contributing to self-help projects for the least privileged. We are motivated every day in our efforts at creating our tours by the belief that in getting to know people and cultures that are different from our own, we build our own small but important bridges toward a healed planet.
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Photo by Tali Miller

We already offer many touring opportunities to such destinations as Borneo and Patagonia, where the fragility of the environment is poignantly obvious to the casual visitor.
In the coming months, we hope to add new and exciting special eco-tourism opportunities, so stay tuned for more details here on the blog, on our Web site, and on Twitter.

Green Week special: Saving Antarctica

Yesterday I told you about the poll we held on the Friendly Planet Travel Web site that let you choose the destination of the next Friendly Planet Travel tour. And, as you already know, Madagascar was the most popular destination of choice, followed closely by Antarctica.
While Antarctica is growing exponentially in popularity, it is precisely the country’s desirability as a tourist destination that makes it so vulnerable to environmental damage. Tourism infrastructure, support facilities for people, and potential oil spills from ships all contribute to the problems facing this fragile spot on the bottom of our planet when people start exploring.
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Yet, it is this infrastructure which makes it possible for us to realize our dreams of visiting this remote and fascinating place. Without the facilities, how can we tour there? It’s quite a delicate problem that requires a great deal of care in finding a good solution.
As you might have heard, in an effort to protect the delicate environment of Antarctica, the Obama administration is imposing mandatory limits on the size of cruise ships sailing there and the number of passengers they’re allowed to bring ashore. Of course, in the name of environmental sustainability, this is a move that we fully support at Friendly Planet Travel.
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Because of the high level of interest from you, we’re exploring Antarctica as a new destination for 2010. But with the country’s future in mind, we’re researching how best to arrange the program so that we cause the least amount of harm while providing the best experience for our travelers.
We care deeply about the environment, and when finished, our program will definitely be one that provides a great experience for our travelers with the least amount of impact on the pristine land they visit.
Because while we want you to have the best experience as possible, we also want your grandchildren and their grandchildren (and so on and so on) to have the chance to experience the same. If we all do our part, we won’t be the last generation to experience the splendor that is Antarctica.
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