Posted by: Dr. Breffni Lennon | July 4, 2012

Rhett Butler’s photographic essay on the transformation of rainforest into palm oil plantations in Borneo (

In late May 2012 Rhett Butler had the opportunity to make a return flight from Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo to Imbak Canyon. During that flight he had an opportunity to photograph the transformation of much of that region’s rainforest into palm oil plantations. Butler notes that:

UPDATE 7/3/12: To clarify, these pictures do not depict anything illegal. Conversion of forests into oil palm plantations in Sabah — unlike some other parts of Southeast Asia — has been mostly done through a land zoning process that dates back decades. Additionally, Sabah’s legal forest reserve is set aside for forest management (logging) — not conversion to oil palm plantations (with the exception of the 100,000 ha within the Yayasan Sabah concession).

The point of this post is to show the transition from primary lowland forest to logging areas to oil palm concessions via an overflight, not serve as a broader commentary on Sabah’s forest management practices. I will be running a longer story later this month which will provide a more detailed look at forestry in Sabah. Meanwhile look for an upcoming peer-reviewed study that will quantify the recent history of forest cover in Sabah, Sarawak, and Brunei.

Finally this post originally contained two pictures of orangutans from Central Kalimantan (Indonesia) but due to objections from a representative at the Borneo Conservation Trust, they have been replaced with a single picture of an orphaned orangutan from Sabah.” (Butler, 2012)

Nonetheless, the photographs provide a startling example of how the world’s forests are increasingly coming under the influence of greater and greater human activity.

Photos by Rhett A. Butler. His article can be accessed here.


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