Borneo

The tropical island of Borneo: a strange and mysterious place of mutant creatures and plants seen nowhere else on Earth. Pygmy forest mammals, weird co-evolved partnerships between plants and animals, the world’s rarest ape and incredible gliders, occupy these 130 million year old jungles.

Produced by NHNZ

Borneo is the third largest island in the world. Pockets of tropical rainforests here have thrived almost untouched for 130 million years, a mysterious and ancient hothouse for evolution. At their heart the tallest rainforest trees in the world, towering up to 200 feet high- life here has adapted to these giant trees creating a magic kingdom of gliders.

The key to this evolutionary mystery is the giant Dipterocarp tree, with its high canopy. The space between the Dipterocarps in Borneo is largely free of obstacles such as branches and other vegetation which would impede gliding compared to crowded rainforests elsewhere.

To take advantage, many animals evolved makeshift wings to glide across the clear spaces between the trees.

The trees in Borneo and surrounding islands are the oldest tropical rainforests in the world due to their unique geographical position. Borneo and the other islands have been close to the equator for about 130 million years, despite tectonic upheavals moving other landmasses. Even during the ice ages, the forest here survived being so close to the equator. That immense period of time allowed creatures to evolve in a stable environment.

During the ice ages, the islands of Borneo and Sumatra were connected to the Asian Continent by land bridges. These temporary land bridges allowed many animals including the orang-utan, the elephant, the rhinoceros, and the members of the cat family to cross over and make the island their home. As the sea levels changed at the end of the last ice age, the bridges disappeared isolating these creatures from mainland Asia.

This island isolation has turned Borneo into an evolutionary hothouse, and created bizarre mutants lurking in its forests. It’s the land of the pygmy animals. Diminutive versions of the Rhino, Elephant and Bear exist here. But Asia’s only ape, the Orangutan has kept its large body to protect itself from Borneo’s main predator, the clouded leopard.

Despite appearances, Borneo is no island paradise. The lush looking tropical forests grow on surprisingly nutrient poor soil compared to mainland Asia. The large amount of rainfall combined with high temperatures leaches and washes away essential nutrients in the soil. Food can be scarce during parts of the year, as trees fruit only sporadically.

There is one famous plant that actually thrives on the island of Borneo despite poor soils, due to an ingenious evolutionary design – the carnivorous pitcher plant. It benefits from a bizarre co-evolved relationship with a tree shrew, attracting the animal to feed off its nectar and in turn using the shrew’s feces as nutrients. Borneo is the ultimate evolutionary wonderland of the bizarre and unexpected.

Episodes From This Series

Borneo

48 minutes / 2014

Japan

50 minutes / 2010

Brazil’s Cerrado

50 minutes / 2010

Australia

50 minutes / 2010

New Zealand

50 minutes / 2010

Costa Rica

48 minutes / 2014

Africa’s Albertine Rift

1 hour / 2014

China – Roof of the World

1 hour / 2014

Western Ghats and Sri Lanka

1 hour / 2014

The Arid Namib

1 hour / 2014

Madagascar

1 hour / 2010

Africa’s Rift Valley lakes

1 hour / 2010