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The Rungan Forests – Exploring the Natural Heritage of Ancient Borneo close to Palangka Raya

At ground level, a green and brown humid world of fallen leaves, mosses and lichens, and decaying tree trunks shelters under the towering canopy of a lowland dipterocarp forest where all living things strain for light and space. Weak sunlight mottles the trunks of the dipterocarps, the reddish bark of the galam tikus, balanced on its slender buttress roots, orchids, nepenthes or the carnivorous pitcher plants, and the local resin damar trees, to name but a few species in this richly diverse forest. 
 
This gem lies in a secret location, close to Palangka Raya. A primary forest long nurtured by its traditional owners, this place was protected also by its inaccessibility. Now much surrounding it has been logged and mined, and access is easier, but the forest quietly persists due to this strong traditional ownership being joined by multi stakeholder group of researchers, business, and local government. It aims to build a foundation for forest and biodiversity conservation in an area under-studied and highly-threatened which was, until recently, a conservation afterthought even though this is probably the largest relatively-intact lowland forest in Borneo having no formal conservation program.

Within an area of low hills, the original dry trails developed by villagers looking for forest resins and other natural bounty have been further developed by researchers for mapping forest types and bio-diversity. Small rivulets and soaks are damp arteries which rise and fall with the rain, quickly turning into mud baths.
 
I accepted an invitation – who wouldn’t – to visit this remarkable forest a couple of months ago. Reaching the location by bus, boat, canoe, mining truck and finally on foot, it was a journey of about 3.5 hours from Palangka Raya. Accessing the site firstly along the course of a small river trashed by gold miners, we entered the forest. From the bleached, white sand, radiating heat, we entered the cooler world of the forest.
 
Our campsite, the research station, in the centre of the forest, was made of saplings with tarpaulins and rice sacks (for beds) stretched across. Basic, and all above ground to escape flooding, it included male and female dorms, a mess and meeting area. The nearby creek provided water for bathing in the temporary bathrooms.  This was built in partnership with a Palangkaraya University. Now, a community forest management unit has been established and programs of environmental education and sustainable development are being implemented. 

This is all in support of the local village’s quest to create a protected community forest. 

After a comfortable sleep, we set off on walks. These forest transects give researchers a grid to identify sites and to orientate themselves within this undisturbed forest. There are plans to open the area for some visits, during times which would not disturb ongoing research. 

If you are interested to go, ask us.

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