Talk highlights plight of Bornean elephants, orangutans

September 24, 2014 - 4:31pm

Zoo-supported projects in Borneo play key role in protecting endangered wildlife

Malaysian Borneo boasts one of the world's greatest assemblages of wildlife, including orangutans, Borneo pygmy elephants, sun bears, clouded leopards and Sumatran rhinos. All of these animals, unfortunately, are considered threatened or endangered, as deforestation rates in Borneo continue to be among the world's highest.

Marc Ancrenaz, scientific director for Hutan and co-director of the Kinabatangan Orang-Utan Conservation Program in the Malaysian state of Sabah, will discuss the enormous environmental challenges and opportunities facing Borneo Friday, Oct. 3, in a free lecture hosted by the World Forestry Center and the Oregon Zoo.

The lecture — titled "Orangutans, Elephants and People: Opportunities and Challenges for Wildlife Conservation in Malaysian Borneo" — takes place at 7 p.m. in the World Forestry Center's Cheatham Hall.

Dr. Ancrenaz will discuss wildlife conservation in Sabah and describe the critical community-based work his organization is undertaking with the support of the Oregon Zoo. For the past five years, the zoo has helped to support KOCP-Hutan on conservation strategies that include purchasing river corridors used as "elephant highways" and working with plantation owners to address an ineffective electrical fence system that often traps elephants inside plantations instead of keeping them out.

The Borneo pygmy elephant is the smallest — and most imperiled — of the Asian elephant subspecies. The estimated 2,000 remaining individuals are threatened by deforestation and human conflict.

For the Oregon Zoo community, the issue hits particularly close to home. Before Asian elephant Chendra became a beloved member of the Oregon Zoo's herd, she was an orphan in the forests of Borneo. In 1993, the baby pachyderm was discovered wandering near a palm oil plantation — wounded, frightened and alone. A shotgun blast to the face had blinded her right eye. Her family was gone, and her chances of survival were slim.

In an initiative partly inspired by Chendra, Portland and Kota Kinabalu — the capital of the Sabah, widely known as KK — are now considering a sister city relationship, which could expand the Oregon Zoo's conservation efforts in Malaysian Borneo.

"The last pure remnants of the Borneo rainforest are even older than the Amazon rainforest, and there are several remaining areas that need more protection," said Nadja Wielebnowski, the zoo's conservation and research manager, who traveled to Sabah in May to explore long-term conservation partnerships. "These forests are home to an incredibly unique and highly diverse flora and fauna. They also hold a lot of carbon offset potential and may be one of our big resources in helping to stabilize climate."