Rain­fo­rest protection

Tropical rain­fo­rests, the planet’s most biodi­verse ecosys­tems, are threa­tened with irrever­sible destruc­tion, with severe impli­ca­tions for global climate and biodi­ver­sity. A quint­essen­tial example is the rain­fo­rests of Borneo, home to the oran­gutan. The survival of these unique crea­tures depends on the preser­va­tion of these rainforests.

Why is it important to protect the rainforest?

Depen­ding on the alti­tude, tropical rain­fo­rests encom­pass lowland rain­fo­rests, moun­tain rain­fo­rests, and mangrove forests along the coast­lines within the equa­to­rial zone. Charac­te­rized by intense sunlight, heavy rain­fall (2,000 to 4,000 litres per square metre per year), and high humi­dity, tropical rain­fo­rests consti­tute appro­xi­m­ately 45% of all forests on earth, cove­ring around 13% of the Earth’s land area, or 1.8 billion hectares. About one to 1.3 billion hectares of this are tropical rainforests.

Today, the most exten­sive conti­guous regions of tropical rain­fo­rest are found in the Congo Basin, the Amazon, and Southeast Asia. These inva­luable ecosys­tems consti­tute a vital part of the Earth’s “green lungs”. They are unique not only for their immense biolo­gical diver­sity, housing around 50% of all animal and plant species, but also for the distinc­ti­ve­ness of certain species. For instance, 35 of Southeast Asia’s over 200 diffe­rent mamma­lian species live solely in Borneo.

The Global Impact of Tropical Rainforests

Tropical rain­fo­rests may seem remote, but they signi­fi­cantly influence our lives by regu­la­ting the Earth’s water cycle, the global climate, and serving as unique habi­tats for humans, animals, and plants. They also supply medi­cinal active ingre­di­ents and act as genetic repo­si­to­ries for research.

In the global atmo­spheric circu­la­tion, tropical rain­fo­rests play a critical role, balan­cing the warm tropical air with cold polar air. They perform a vital climate-regu­la­ting and cooling func­tion, acting as a global air condi­tio­ning system. Addi­tio­nally, tropical rain­fo­rests serve as colossal natural carbon reser­voirs. They also func­tion as natural phar­macies; half of all approved medi­cines origi­nate from plants. About 1,400 tropical plants alone are believed to contain active ingre­di­ents for cancer treat­ment, while the tropical rainforest’s genetic pool remains largely unexplored.

Affe sitzt auf einem Baum im Regenwald

Bornean rain­fo­rest

Weißstirnlangur sitzt auf einem Baum im Regenwald

White-fronted surili is endemic to the Bornean rainforest

Threats to the Tropical Rainforests

Rapid defo­re­sta­tion, exten­sive forest fires, large-scale expan­sion of palm oil, paper, and soy plan­ta­tions, grazing areas, along with poaching and illegal wild­life trade, seriously threaten the world’s remai­ning tropical forests’ flora and fauna.

Sustainable forest manage­ment, envi­ron­mental protec­tion, and ecolo­gical thin­king are still excep­tions rather than norms. Profit maxi­mi­sa­tion remains the prio­rity for timber corpo­ra­tions, mining compa­nies, food and palm oil indus­tries, stan­ding between govern­ments and those affected — humans, animals, and plants. Conse­quently, large swathes of tropical rain­fo­rests are cleared annu­ally. Satel­lite data analysis reveals that we lose an average of three million hectares each year. The figure reached an alar­ming 4.21 million hectares in 2020 — one of the highest on record — with Brazil, the Demo­cratic Repu­blic of Congo, and Bolivia reporting the grea­test forest losses.

Palmölplantage Luftaufnahme

In Borneo, the palm oil boom of the past decades has been the driving force behind the alar­ming destruc­tion of rain­fo­rests. Vast plan­ta­tions, beyond imagi­na­tion in size, are not only obli­te­ra­ting the habi­tats of oran­gutans and nume­rous other species but also frag­men­ting their habi­tats, leading to an escala­tion in human-animal conflicts. Distur­bingly, if a female oran­gutan with offspring falls victim to such killings, the survi­ving baby oran­gutan often falls into the clut­ches of the illicit animal trade or becomes a pet. The Nyaru Menteng and Samboja Lestari rescue centres operated by BOS bear witness to the dire circum­s­tances that most of the oran­gutans find them­selves in. Frequently, our teams are summoned for rescue opera­tions as oran­gutans are disco­vered aimlessly wande­ring amidst palm oil plan­ta­tions. When these animals are deter­mined to be healthy and in no imme­diate need of assis­tance, we colla­bo­rate with the conser­va­tion autho­rity BKSDA to relo­cate them directly to secure rain­fo­rest areas.

A sight from above at Salat island

How does BOS help?

BOS actively protects and restores a vast area of 460,680 hectares of rain­fo­rest with the aim of crea­ting long-term bene­fits for both the local popu­la­tion and nature. In doing so, we actively engage the local commu­ni­ties in our operations.

Our journey began when we estab­lished the Samboja Lestari oran­gutan rescue center in East Kali­mantan on a 1,853-hectare site. This area had previously suffered from defo­re­sta­tion and forest fires, leaving behind a nutrient-defi­cient grass steppe. It was at this time that we initiated the first tree plan­ting efforts. Today, a healthy secon­dary forest thrives in its place. However, the devas­ta­ting fires of 2015 and 2019 caused signi­fi­cant destruc­tion, and the conse­quences will persist for a considerable time.

Samboja Lestari is also home to a diverse arbo­retum, housing over 750 endan­gered plant species listed on the “Red List.” Our ongoing efforts at Samboja Lestari focus on refo­re­sta­tion and forest main­ten­ance, with parti­cular atten­tion to mana­ging wildfires.

Located in Central Kali­mantan, the BOS rescue center Nyaru Menteng is situated amidst a 500-hectare rain­fo­rest. Addi­tio­nally, we have the pre-release Rungan River Islands (Kaja, Bangamat, Palas) span­ning 178 hectares and the Salat Island Cluster cove­ring 2,089 hectares. These areas serve as the final stages of reha­bi­li­ta­tion for oran­gutans before their release into the wild. Further­more, animals that are unable to be rein­tro­duced into their natural habitat due to health reasons find a perma­nent home in these centers.

Kehje Sewen — one of BOSF release forests

Käfigöffnung bei einer Auswilderung

The first moment of freedom it the forest of Bukit Baka Bukit Raya

Aufforstung im Mawas Gebiet

Refo­re­sta­tion in Mawas peat­land forest, Central Kalimantan

Release and refo­re­sta­tion areas

To release oran­gutans, we look for forests that meet the criteria of intact oran­gutan habi­tats and fall under protected forest desi­gna­tions. In East Kali­mantan, we release oran­gutans in the 86,600-hectare rain­fo­rest of Kehje Sewen. Nearby, there is also the 82-hectare pre-release island of Juq Kehje Swen.

In Central Kali­mantan, our releases take place within a 35,000-hectare area within the 456,000-hectare Bukit Batikap protected forest. Addi­tio­nally, we use appro­xi­m­ately 22,500 hectares of rain­fo­rest within the 181,090-hectare Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park for releases.

Moreover, BOS protects the vast Mawas Conser­va­tion Area, cove­ring 309,000 hectares. This expan­sive region was once a large-scale rice culti­va­tion project that failed. The remai­ning peat swamp forest now houses one of the world’s largest popu­la­tions of wild Bornean oran­gutans, esti­mated at around 2,550 indi­vi­duals, along with nume­rous other rare animals and plants. Curr­ently, we are under­ta­king a massive refo­re­sta­tion project on the 70,000 hectares of devas­tated peat swamp rain­fo­rest. This involves the closure of thou­sands of kilo­me­ters of drai­nage canals, gradual rehy­dra­tion of the area, and the estab­lish­ment of new rain­fo­rest. Our ulti­mate goal is to create a new natural habitat for oran­gutans within this area.

Forest for life

Save the rainforest

Saving the oran­gutans cannot succeed without preser­ving their habitat! Mawas is a thousand-year-old peat swamp rain­fo­rest housing one of the largest wild oran­gutan popu­la­tions in Indo­nesia. Although signi­fi­cant portions of this unique rain­fo­rest were lost as part of a mega­pro­ject in the 1990s.

Now, we have a vision: To restore the forest and make it a home for even more orangutans.

Frequently asked questions

What is the connec­tion between oran­gutans and rain­fo­rest conservation?

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The native habitat of oran­gutans is the rain­fo­rest. Here they can find food and perfect living condi­tions. If the rain­fo­rest is destroyed, we deprive the oran­gutans of their natural resources. Whoever wants to protect the oran­gutan must ther­e­fore also protect the rain­fo­rest — and thereby the global climate as well

Why is it important to protect the rainforest? 

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Forests around the world, but espe­ci­ally those in Indo­nesia, play a crucial role in climate regu­la­tion. The great diver­sity of plants contri­butes to absor­bing carbon from the atmo­sphere and provi­ding us with oxygen. In addi­tion, vege­ta­tion also helps regu­late the hydro­logic cycle and ground­water rech­arge by miti­ga­ting the surface drai­nage of water, ulti­m­ately main­tai­ning ground­water levels and preven­ting floo­ding. Thus, when areas are defo­rested, they slowly dry out, which simul­ta­neously increases the likeli­hood of dange­rous floo­ding. This drying also creates the risk of another cata­strophe: forest fires. Fires in healthy forests are a natural part of their life cycle. It can become critical when degraded forests catch fire, as these fires quickly get out of bounds. This is parti­cu­larly dange­rous when peat swamp forests burn. As peat is made up of decom­po­sing organic matter, it stores an incre­dibly high amount of carbon. This means it can burn slowly, under­ground, and multiple times while releasing dange­rous smog (haze) as well as large amounts of carbon. In 2015, when extreme fires burned nearly 2.6 million hectares of forest in Indo­nesia, it is esti­mated that more than 1,750,000,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equi­va­lent were released. That equals nearly three times the regular annual emis­sions for all of Indo­nesia. Carbon dioxide emis­sions on this scale continue to drive the global climate change and put us all at risk from further natural disas­ters. The vicious cycle conti­nues. As we lose these forests, we also lose valuable natural resources that, if managed sustain­ably, would provide for the needs of people for gene­ra­tions to come. Local commu­ni­ties depend on these resources for their liveli­hoods — from food sources like fish and fruit to clean drin­king water. Beyond the adja­cent commu­ni­ties, these forests are important sources of timber for cons­truc­tion, plant mate­rial for weaving and handi­crafts (rattan), medi­cinal agents, honey, or raw mate­rial for rubber (caout­chouc). Above all, the rain­fo­rests are home to count­less diffe­rent species. We curr­ently witness the sixth mass extinc­tion, known as the Anthro­po­cene Species Extinc­tion. Accor­ding to esti­mates, the current extinc­tion rate is 100 times the natural rate (or the expected rate). More critical approa­ches even assume a rate of 1,000 times. Nearly 28% of the species recorded by the IUCN (128,918) are now threa­tened with extinc­tion (35,765 species). As biodi­ver­sity hotspots, tropical forests are strong­holds for many of these species. Borneo is part of Sunda (geol.), one of the world’s 36 biodi­ver­sity hotspots, and is home to over 16,000 species of plants and animals. Yet across Indo­nesia, nearly half of the endemic — that is, native only to Indo­nesia — mammal species (132 out of 295) are threa­tened with extinc­tion, which includes the oran­gutan. As we drive wild animals from their natural habi­tats, the likeli­hood that they will come into contact with humans increases. This can have fatal conse­quences. It is esti­mated that over 70% of modern infec­tious dise­ases origi­nate in wild­life. 31% of emer­ging dise­ases are directly linked to defo­re­sta­tion. This is a result of the fact that forests and other natural habi­tats func­tion as buffers between species. When infec­tious agents move from one host species to another, the likeli­hood of muta­tions increases. And so a disease that is harm­less to one species can have deadly effects in another. So unless we want to find out what the next HIV, rabies, or COVID-19 might look like, we’d be wise to protect our natural world.

How can you protect the rainforests? 

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Avoid palm oil that does not have a sustaina­bi­lity certi­fi­cate. Pay close atten­tion to the ingre­dient list when buying food. Palm oil or palm fat is found in many super­market products: in ready-made meals, sweets, marga­rine, bread spreads, candles, cosme­tics, clea­ning agents and deter­gents. Around 85% of palm oil comes from Indo­nesia and Malaysia. Also approach local retailers and manu­fac­tu­rers about buying only products from certi­fied palm oil culti­va­tion. The demand still deter­mines the supply. Most palm oil that is imported into Europe ends up in biodiesel. So not driving helps the rain­fo­rest and the oran­gutans, too. Use only recy­cled paper. Only buy colou­ring paper, exer­cise books, toilet paper and other paper products made from 100% recy­cled paper (reco­gnizable by the “Blue Angel” or “Ökopa­Plus” seals). Because no rain­fo­rest has to be cleared for it. Do not buy tropical wood. When buying furni­ture, picture frames and other products made of wood, ask where the wood comes from. If the annual rings are missing, it may be tropical wood. Join us in crea­ting a “Lebens­wald”, a “living forest”. This way you help us to recreate a living peat swamp rain­fo­rest in Mawas and at the same time provide a new habitat for orangutans.