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Borneo with author Terry Pratchett

Ashley Leiman reports back from her recent trip to Borneo accompanied by author Terry Pratchett.

It has been 16 years since Terry Pratchett and I shared an adventure in Borneo. He is truly an old friend so it was with much excitement that we planned our recent trip together.

In 1996, logging seemed the biggest threat to the survival of orangutans. Then, the chainsaw was our enemy. This year, we were confronted with the real threat: oil-palm plantations had replaced the swathes of forest.

We drove for more than three hours through unrelenting monoculture. There was nothing but oil palm. It was sobering, heartbreaking and frightening, because the conversion of forests has not stopped. The often-used statistic that orangutans have lost 80 per cent of their habitat in the past 30 years is brought home to you when you drive for mile after mile through such a devastated landscape. Logging often left trees standing which acted as life rafts for orangutans. But orangutans cannot survive in a plantation and they are forced to crop raid which leads to persecution. The challenge now is not to stop the logging but to limit the damage already done by plantations.

Terry and I were both shocked, but we could see glimmers of hope – especially with the Dayak and local communities the Orangutan Foundation works with. While they want to improve their agriculture, they also want to keep the forests and their way of life. It is sad that, after all these years, the threats remain so pressing but it is encouraging that all is not lost. For me personally, and I am sure for Terry, it was strangely motivating.

We have to keep on fighting. Thank you to those Steppes Discovery clients who have travelled to Borneo, seen the situation for themselves and now actively support the work of the Orangutan Foundation.

Join Steppes Discovery in Borneo and see for yourself the inspirational work being done by the Orangutan Foundation in Tanjung Puting National Park. Ashley Leiman will be leading our group tours departing in August and September.