Many environmentalists see ecotourism as beneficial (though not harmless). Sustainable tourism increases funds to fight green wars and increases public awareness of issues.
Like the Amazon, the Borneo jungle has been disappearing rapidly and yet preventing deforestation is essential in fighting global warming. In the diminishing Borneo rainforest researchers have also discovered plant species that may provide cures for cancer, HIV and Malaria.
The Heart of Borneo agreement is a Malaysian, Indonesian and Brunein government attempt to conserve a corridor of virgin rainforest between the three countries. However, the battle is far from won – illegal logging and wildlife poaching are endemic and expensive to police. Public assistance – in the form of donations and ecotourism − continues to be essential.
Visitors can experience the ‘heart of the jungle’ in several places in Borneo. Brunei is probably the most accessible. It contains a large tract of virgin rainforest, the Temburong National Park, in its eastern exclave. Entry into the jungle is almost a mystical experience as there are no roads and visitors must travel upriver aboard a temuai (longboat driven by a local guide).
For authentic eco-travellers who want to stay overnight and are happy in less than 5-star lodgings the Sumbiling Eco Village is located close by and runs tours into the primary rainforest. The village, staffed by local tribe members, runs educational programs.
In Sabah there is an enclave of authentic eco-tourism operators centering around Albert Teo’s award-winning Borneo Eco Tours group. Their Sukau Rainforest Lodge, located in the Kinabatangan basin (not officially inside the heart of borneo boundary but close), was the first to bring tourists into the jungle in a sustainable way.
There are also homestay options in the same region, some which allow visitors to help with tree planting. Red Ape Encounters is an ecotourism organization that focuses on conserving orangutan habitats. Albert Teo warns sincere ecotourists ‘to be discerning’ because despite rhetoric some consumers ‘are not responsible’.