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Map of Borneo(yellow=Indonesia, brown=Malaysia, green=Brunei)
Map of Borneo
(yellow=Indonesia, brown=Malaysia, green=Brunei)

Location South East Asia
Coordinates 1°00′N, 114°00′E
Archipelago Greater Sunda Islands

Area 743,330 km²
Highest point Kinabalu (4,095 m)
Flag of Brunei Brunei
Districts Belait
Brunei and Muara

Flag of Indonesia Indonesia
Provinces West Kalimantan
Central Kalimantan
South Kalimantan
East Kalimantan
Flag of Malaysia Malaysia
States Sabah

Population 16 million (as of 2000)
Density 22/km²

Borneo is the third largest island in the world. It has an area of 743,330 km² (287,000 square miles), and is located at the centre of the Malay archipelago and Indonesia. Borneo is considered to be part of the geographic region of Southeast Asia. Administratively, this island is divided between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Borneo is only a Western reference; the term is rarely used locally. The name Borneo was only given by the Dutch during their colonial period. In Indonesia, the island is always referred to as Kalimantan while in Malaysia the northern section is referred to as East Malaysia (as opposed to Western reference of Malaysian Borneo).



Borneo is surrounded by the South China Sea to the north and northwest, the Sulu Sea to the northeast, the Celebes Sea and the Makassar Strait to the east, and the Java Sea and Karimata Strait to the south.

To the west of Borneo are the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra. To the south is Java. To the east is the island of Sulawesi (Celebes). To the northeast is the Philippines.

Borneo's highest point is Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, with an elevation of 4,095 m (13,435 ft) above sea level. This makes it the world's third highest island.


Borneo is the only island in the world containing parts of three separate countries. Borneo is divided administratively into:


The whole of Borneo was controlled by the Malay Brunei Sultanate Empire during its golden age from the 15th to 17th centuries, after the fall of the Malacca Sultanate [1] in Southeast Asia. However, the northern part of Borneo was later controlled by the Malay Sulu Sultanate (1473–1899) and subsequently the North Borneo Company [2] gained control. The territories controlled by the Brunei Sultanate were taken under control by the British Brooke dynasty. [3]

In the early 19th century, British and Dutch colonists entered into agreement to exchange trading ports under their controls; the eastern side of Borneo under the Dutch colonial empire and western side under the British. (Similarly, Malacca was given to the British in exchange for various ports in Java, and Sumatra was surrendered to the Dutch). China sent several vessels to trade in Borneo. Some of the Chinese beads and wares found their way deep into the interior of Borneo.

During the Second World War, Japanese forces gained control of Borneo (1941–45) and decimated many local populations and Malay intellectuals, including the elimination of the Malay Sultanate of Sambas in Kalimantan [4]. Borneo was the main site of the confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia between 1962 and 1966, as well as the communist revolts to gain control of the whole area. In recent times, the Philippines claimed that the northern part of Borneo is within their territorial rights and had made several confrontational claims against Malaysia. Several other territorial claims were resolved at The Hague international courts.


Borneo is very rich in biodiversity compared to many other areas (MacKinnon et al. 1998). There are about 15,000 species of flowering plants with 3,000 species of trees (267 species are dipterocarps), 221 species of terrestrial mammals and 420 species of resident birds in Borneo (MacKinnon et al. 1998). It is also the centre of evolution and radiation of many endemic species of plants and animals. The remaining Borneo rainforest is the only natural habitat for the endangered Bornean Orangutan. It is also an important refuge for many endemic forest species, and the Asian Elephant, the Sumatran Rhinoceros and the Bornean Clouded Leopard.. .

The World Wildlife Fund divides the island into seven distinct ecoregions. The Borneo lowland rain forests cover most of the island, with an area of 427,500 km². Other lowland ecoregions are the Borneo peat swamp forests, the Kerangas or Sundaland heath forests, the Southwest Borneo freshwater swamp forests, and the Sunda Shelf mangroves. The Borneo montane rain forests lie in the central highlands of the island, above the 1000 meter elevation. The highest elevations of Mount Kinabalu are home to the Kinabalu montane alpine meadows, an alpine shrubland notable for its numerous endemic species, including many orchids.

The island historically had extensive rainforest cover, but the area is shrinking rapidly due to heavy logging for the needs of the Malaysian plywood industry. One half of the annual tropical timber acquisition of the whole world comes from Borneo. Furthermore, palm oil plantations are rapidly encroaching on the last remnants of primary rainforest. The rainforest was also greatly destroyed due to the forest fires in 1997 to 1998 which were started by people and coincided with an exceptional drought season of El Niño. During the great fire, hotspots could be seen on satellite images and a haze was created that affected Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

In order to combat overpopulation in Java, the Indonesian government started a massive transmigration (transmigrasi) of poor farmers and landless peasants into Borneo in the 70's and 80's, to farm the logged areas, albeit with little success as the fertility of the land has been removed with the trees and what soil remains is washed away in tropical downpours.

Ethnic and biological diversity

There are over 30 ethnic groups living in Borneo, making the population of this island one of the most variegated of human social groups. The native ethnic groups are Austronesians and their languages belong to the Malayo-Polynesian language family. Some ethnicities encompass only between 30-100 individuals and are threatened with extinction in terms of culture, language, traditional ecological knowledge, traditional skills, ethnomusic and local knowledge yet to be documented by anthropologists. Ancestral knowledge of ethnobotany [5] and ethnozoology [6] is said to be useful in new drug discoveries (for example, bintangor plant for AIDS) or as future alternative food sources (such as sago starch for lactic acid production and sago maggots as a protein source).

Certain indigenous people (such as the Kayan, Kenyah, Punan Bah and Penan) living on the island have been struggling for decades for their right to preserve their environment from loggers and transmigrant settlers and colonists. Land reform is needed for future development in the face of rapid economic changes.

The type of rainforests found in Borneo include the high diversity mixed dipterocarp forest, the rare peat swamp forests and heath forest.

Researchers scouring swamps in the heart of Borneo island have discovered a venomous species of snake that can change its skin color. Scientists named their find the Kapuas mud snake, and speculated it might only occur in the Kapuas River drainage system.

World Wildlife Fund has stated that 361 animal and plant species have been discovered in Borneo since 1996, underscoring its unparalleled biodiversity. [7]

Furthering the unparalleled biodiversity of the island of Borneo, in the 18 month period from July 2005 until December 2006, another 52 new species were found.

See also


  • Ghazally Ismail et al. (eds.) Scientific Journey Through Borneo Series. Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Kota Samarahan. 1996-2001.
  • Gudgeon, L. W. W. British North Borneo. Adam and Charles Black, London. (An early well-illustrated book on "British North Borneo", now known as Sabah.) 1913.
  • MacKinnon K, Hatta G, Halim H, Mangalik A. The ecology of Kalimantan. Oxford University Press, London. 1998.
  • K M Wong & C L Chan. "Mt Kinabalu: Borneo's Magic Mountain." Natural History Publication, Kota Kinabalu. 1998.
  • David Macdonald. Expedition to Borneo.
  • Dennis Lau. Borneo: A Photographic Journey.
  • Stephen Holley. White Headhunter in Borneo.

Selected references

  • Eric Hansen. Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo.
  • John Wassner. Espresso with the Headhunters: A Journey Through the Jungles of Borneo.
  • Redmond O'Hanlon. Into the Heart of Borneo: An Account of a Journey Made in 1983 to the Mountains of Batu Tiban with James Fenton.
  • Charles M. Francis. A Photographic Guide to Mammals of South-east Asia.
  • Abdullah, MT. "Biogeography and variation of Cynopterus brachyotis in Southeast Asia." PhD thesis. The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia. 2003.
  • Corbet, GB, Hill JE. The mammals of the Indomalayan region: a systematic review. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 1992.
  • G.W.H. Davison, Chew Yen Fook. A Photographic Guide to Birds of Borneo.
  • Hall LS, Gordon G. Grigg, Craig Moritz, Besar Ketol, Isa Sait, Wahab Marni and MT Abdullah. "Biogeography of fruit bats in Southeast Asia." Sarawak Museum Journal LX(81):191–284. 2004.
  • Karim, C., A.A. Tuen and M.T. Abdullah. "Mammals." Sarawak Museum Journal Special Issue No. 6. 80: 221–234. 2004.
  • Mohd. Azlan J., Ibnu Maryanto, Agus P. Kartono, and MT Abdullah. "Diversity, Relative Abundance and Conservation of Chiropterans in Kayan Mentarang National Park, East Kalimantan, Indonesia." Sarawak Museum Journal 79: 251-265. 2003.
  • Hall LS, Richards GC, Abdullah MT. "The bats of Niah National Park, Sarawak." Sarawak Museum Journal. 78: 255-282. 2002.
  • Wilson DE, Reeder DM. Mammal species of the world. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC. 2005.

External links

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