It is perhaps the closest place on the planet to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World —the mythical prehistoric paradise of the Sherlock Holmes book, published in 1912.
But the Heart of Borneo, as it has been christened by conservation agencies trying to save it from destruction, is finally beginning to yield its secrets. A mission by WWF scientists to the south-east Asian island found 52 species previously unknown to science, including three types of trees, two tree frogs and a tiny fish less than a centimetre long.
“These discoveries reaffirm Borneo’s position as one of the most important centres of biodiversity in the world,” said Stuart Chapman, the international coordinator of WWF’s Heart of Borneo programme.
“The remote and inaccessible forests in the Heart of Borneo are one of the world’s final frontiers for science and many undiscovered species are still waiting to be found there.” But he warns that species are going extinct as fast as the scientists can find them. In the second half of the 20th century, forest cover on the island —which includes parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and the sultanate of Brunei— dropped from 162 m to 98 m hectares. Since 1996, deforestation has accelerated to 2m hectares (5m acres) a year.
The threat comes from forest clearing for rubber, oil palm and pulp production. Logging roads into the forest also make it easier for illegal wildlife traders to poach animals.
Borneo has long fascinated biologists. Charles Darwin, on his voyage around the world on the Beagle, described the island as “one great wild untidy luxuriant hothouse made by nature for herself.”
Alfred Russell Wallace, naturalist and co-discoverer of natural selection, spent many years there studying its plants and animals and refining his ideas. The Heart of Borneo is a forested highland region which covers 30 % of the island and is home to creatures such as the orangutan, the clouded leopard, the sun bear, the Borneo pygmy elephant and the proboscis monkey.
But a WWF expedition between July 2005 and September 2006 has added another 52 species. One, the fish Paedocypris micromegethes, grows to just 8.8 mm long and is the world’s second-smallest backboned animal. It lives in highly acidic peak swamps and is translucent. Its small size may mean that it can survive when ponds dry out.
Mr Chapman said that the discovery of three new tree species was particularly astonishing because, of all animal and plant groups, these should be the easiest to locate.
With around 15,000 plant species, Borneo is the most botanically diverse region on the planet. The UK by comparison is home to 1,623 plant species. “The rate of discovery has been about four new species a month for the last 10 years,” said Mr Chapman. “That in itself highlights that we really have something special here.” He said that Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei are about to sign a three-way agreement early next year on how to protect the region.
Last year the team reported the discovery of a mysterious cat-like creature captured on film by a camera trap at night. The animal has dark red fur and a long, bushy tail and looks like a cross between a cat and a fox. It has not been sighted or photographed since and scientists are still unsure what it is. “We have had every conceivable suggestion, but the mystery remains unsolved,” said Mr Chapman.
The Guardian. Adapted
yield: donar, produir, desvelar / dar, producir, desvelar
logging: explotació forestal / explotación forestal
poach: caçar il·legalment / cazar furtivamente
swamps: aiguamolls / marismas
Part 1: Reading comprehension
Choose the correct answer. Only ONE answer is possible.
1. The island of Borneo
a) was the setting for Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous novel, LostWorld.
b) is a mythical prehistoric paradise.
c) is the closest place to Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel.
d) was the setting for many Sherlock Holmes stories.
2. WWF scientists on a mission to Borneo
a) discovered a number of animal species unknown to science.
b) found another south-East Asian island.
c) catalogued the 52 species recently known to science.
d) found many new species still unknown to science.
3. Stuart Chapman has argued that
a) species are disappearing as they are discovered by scientists.
b) the forests in Borneo are the only ones in the world’s final frontiers for science.
c) many undiscovered species have become extinct due to deforestation.
d) deforestation is slowing down these last years.
4. According to the text
a) Charles Darwin elaborated his theory of evolution out of his experience in Borneo.
b) Alfred RussellWallace was the discoverer of natural selection.
c) biologists have been fascinated by Borneo for a long time.
d) Borneo has a forested highland region which covers most of the island.
5. The WWF expedition of July 2005 has
a) added the Paedocypris micromegethes to its list of new species.
b) discovered that the Paedocypris micromegethes is the world’s smallest animal.
c) argued that the Paedocypris micromegethes’s small size means it cannot survive when ponds dry out.
d) stated that the Paedocypris micromeghethes grows from 8.8 mm long.
6. Mr Chapman has stated that Borneo has around 15.000 plant species, adding that
a) it is one of the least botanically diverse regions he’s ever seen.
b) it has a similar number of plant species to the UK.
c) Malaysia and other Asian countries are going to sign an agreement of protection for the region.
d) the rate of discovery of new species is almost insignificant.
7. Last year the team reported the discovery of a cat-like creature, which
a) was captured by the scientists at night.
b) has been photographed a number of times though still uncaught.
c) has dark red ears and a long, bushy tail.
d) appears like a cross between two animals.
8. On the whole, the text may be said to argue that Borneo
a) is an exciting tourist resort.
b) has more species of plants than any other region on the planet.
c) has only been explored very recently by scientists.
d) is completely deforested nowadays.