I have just returned from taking 20 undergraduate students on a two-week New Colombo Plan expedition to the Kalimantan Provinces of Indonesia on the enchanted and exotic island of Borneo.
All of us agreed it was the trip of a lifetime. Our itinerary was organised expertly by our partner Lambung Mangkurat University. We set out with the twin goals of cultural immersion and to understandthe pressures of palm oil plantations on the survival of the many unique fauna of Borneo, particularly the proboscis monkey and the orang-utan.
Palm oil has become a major and lucrative export of this island and the expansion of these plantations has led to a devastating loss of tropical forest habitat. The consensus was that we all learnt much, and indeed achieved these goals. The proboscis monkey is found exclusively in the mangrove forests along the waterways of Borneo, and its primary diet is mangrove fruits, shoots and leaves, analogous to our koala with its dependence on eucalyptus leaves. The males are very distinctive with a long and fleshy nose and a swollen stomach. We spent several days observing the ecology of these endearing animals. We stood waist-deep in muddy water to plant more than 100 mangrove trees to expand their habitat on an island sanctuary. The plastic pollution problem was evident wherever we looked, as the coastal river flow not only brought huge barges loaded with coal to the sea, but myriaddiscarded cups, bottles and bags downstream.
A short flight took us to our departure point for a magical boat ride into the large Tanjung Putting National Park to spend three days traversing the waterwaysin search of the orang-utan. We saw many primates, including orang-utan, langur, macaques, gibbons and, my favourite, the proboscis monkey, along with squirrelsand bearded pigs.We visited the research camp where Dr Birute Galdikas has spent the past 47 years observing the orang-utan. Unfortunately, we did not meet her as she and her team were out in the forest carrying on with their research. She is such a testimony to the dedication of the scientists of this world.Hopefully some of our tour group will continue in her tradition.
Emeritus Professor Tim Roberts,School of Enviromental and Life Sciences, The University of Newcastle.