Speaking Passionately on Behalf of Those who Cannot Speak
The Forgotten Forests
by Calley O'Neill and Rama the Elephant with Jeb Barsh
Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)
STATUS: Endangered • CITES l
Listed as endangered since 1986 due to habitat losses and poaching for the ivory trade. There are many conservation efforts under way. Elephants are protected internationally against poaching and trading.
Protecting and replanting rainforests is the most effective
way to combat global warming.
UNITED NATIONS ON CLIMATE CHANGE (2007)
Destroying a tropical rainforest and other species rich ecosystems for profit is like
burning all the paintings in the Louvre
to cook dinner.
HARVARD ENTOMOLOGIST E. O. WILSON
THE FORGOTTEN FORESTS is one of the earliest, wildest and most challenging collaborative works of the exhibition. Clearly inspired by the Muses, it was spontaneously described by Chris Pfefferkorn (Deputy Director Living Collections, Oregon Zoo) to Calley when first he saw it in the elephant barn. As Chris told Calley: I can tell you what this painting is about. This is about the destruction of the forests in Borneo.
This is the story about the forests of the Southeast Asian equatorial islands of Borneo and Sumatra and how they are still disappearing. It is the artist’s prayer that we be granted the wisdom to save the last remaining ancient forests in Southeast Asia and around the world ~ global treasure troves of biological diversity and health.
by Calley O'Neill and the Rama Team, Featuring Rama, the Artist Elephant
A JOURNEY OF ART AND SOUL FOR THE EARTH
Borneo and Sumatra are huge, as islands go, third and sixth largest in the world and heavily populated. Nearly 70 million indigenous people and immigrants live here. Sumatra alone supports 50 million people. The native people of Borneo are known as the Dayak, and the Batak, Minangkabau, Krui, and Pelalawan-Petalangan live in Sumatra. Huge and ancient rivers provide fresh water for diverse habitat, species and the people of the islands.
Indonesian forests are home to some of the highest levels of biological diversity and endemism (found only in this place) on Earth. Indonesia is one of the five most species rich countries in the world. Imagine 17,000 tiny islands home to the world’s third largest area of rainforest, coming after the Amazon in South America and the Congo River Basin in Africa.
With just 1% of the world’s land area, Indonesia’s forests host over 10% of the world’s known plant species, 12% of the world’s mammals (at 515, more species than any other nation) 16% of all reptile and amphibian species and 17% of the bird species. Over 25,000 flowering plant species have been described, with 2,000 species of orchids growing on Borneo alone. About 40% of these plants are to be found nowhere else on Earth. The Indonesian Ministry of the Environment estimated that more than half of Indonesia’s species are unrecorded.
It is here you will find the last orang-utans, Sumatran tigers, Borneo pygmy elephants and Sumatran rhinos living together as they do no where else on Earth.
Massive economic change has brought serious threats to the way of life of the people, the habitats, the species and the land. The diversity and value of Indonesia’s natural resources have attracted major international financing and an explosion of extractive industries including palm oil plantations, hardwood logging, plywood, bio-fuels, rubber, coffee, coal and minerals. The resulting rapid destruction of tropical forests is causing incalculable harm to the forest ecosystems and species survival. Half the world’s palm oil comes from Indonesia. Industry has brought roads and opened up rampant poaching ~ a grave threat to endangered species. After Malaysia and the US, Indonesia has the third highest number of threatened species at 772. It has the highest number of threatened mammal species at 147.
Unfortunately, clear cutting and land degradation is producing over a third of total global carbon emissions and Indonesia has a reputation as one of the worst countries in the world for deforestation. Approximately three-quarters of Indonesia’s timber is illegally harvested. Greenpeace South East Asia estimated that between 2000 and 2005, Indonesia had the highest rate of deforestation in the world. As it is estimated that up to 25% of greenhouse gas emissions may come from tropical forest clearing, Indonesia ranks as the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas pollution after the US and China. 72% of the forests in Indonesia have been cut. When forests are cut down, much of the moisture created by the plant density in the ecosystem is lost leading to droughts, soil degradation, erosion and devastation of species.
Ironically, elephants were used in Southeast Asia to destroy their own habitats during the human population explosion and the aggressive conversion of natural lands into agriculture. Extensive GIS mapping, ground and satellite tracking by the Conservation and Research Center revealed that 70 percent of their range has been converted since 1980.
There are numerous organizations and countless individuals working to protect and preserve the remaining ancient forests and the people, plants, birds and animals that depend on them. In the face of corporate demand for resources and global product demand, there is much work being done for the indigenous people, reforestation and ecological restoration. There is ever so much more work to do. The key is for the people to be able once again to live in a way that protects old-growth forests. This requires that corporations operate in a sustainable and restorative way toward a successful triple bottom line of people, planet, prosperity to insure the best life for the people and all species.
Calley O’Neill took the reference photograph from the roof of the elephant barn at the Oregon Zoo.