An investigation of the ongoing destruction of rain forests in Borneo and the native species that live in them.
In 2012, esteemed nature writer Shoumatoff (Legends of the American Desert: Sojourns in the Greater Southwest, 1997, etc.), who was a founding contributing editor to Outside and Conde Nast Traveler, traveled to Borneo to visit an orangutan to study their cognitive functions. When he arrived, he was shocked to witness the wanton destruction of the forests by “large-scale multinational logging operations,” which are replacing the indigenous plants with palm trees, which produce profitable palm oil. These forests date back 130 million years, and the species of some of the flora and fauna have yet to be identified. The Wildlife Conservation Society has described the situation as “the greatest destruction of biodiversity on the planet.” By the next year, the author had an assignment from Smithsonian to return to Borneo and document the situation. This book is an outgrowth of that trip. Shoumatoff recounts the recent history of the area, beginning in World War II, when efforts were made to enlist the indigenous people in the fight against Japan. In 2000, the World Wildlife Fund took the lead in the creation of conservation areas that can only selectively be logged and replaced by palm trees. Many of the forests are already in various stages of degradation, and the discovery that they cover valuable oil reserves puts the rest in jeopardy. Local politicians are under pressure to modernize by the different tribes that inhabit the region who desire the amenities of modern life. As the author shows, the indigenous population is torn between the attractions of technology and money and their own traditional, “multiperspectivist” spiritual values.
A provocative, multilayered discussion of the imperative of saving our planet’s environmental heritage while respecting the aspirations of indigenous people.