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March 24, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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Imbak Canyon – Building a Bridge

“The only way forward, if we are going to improve the quality of the environment, is to get everybody involved” — Richard Rogers (Award-winning British architect)

Last year, I was at a bit of a loss as for what to do, not ready to start University, but at the same time not wanting to sit around at home twiddling my thumbs. After some deep and meaningful conversations with the wise elders known as Mum and Dad, I decided a bit of travelling was in order, but where should I go? Normal backpacking just wouldn’t cut it for me; I wanted to be able to look back on my travels and feel a sense of pride with what I had done. So onto Google I went. It didn’t take long before I came across ‘Raleigh International’, an England-based charity, which takes 17–25 year olds to less fortunate countries than theirs and gets them doing projects to help local communities and the environment.

Skip forward a few months, and I found myself standing in the middle of Imbak Canyon, Borneo. Our group’s job was to construct the second part of a suspension bridge spanning the river. Once the bridge was completed, it would allow scientists and rangers easy access to the other side where they could observe previously uncharted virgin rainforest. While this may seem like a pointless exercise, putting a bridge in the rainforest, the information that has been collected from the newly accessible forest has provided a valuable insight. The population numbers of some of the rare wildlife are slowly rising.  The animals are returning to the surrounding area after many decades of intense logging.

As the project was all about helping the environment while causing as little disruption to the surrounding area as possible, the only power tool in use was a chainsaw. Also, only trees that had fallen by natural causes could be used in the project: this meant that wherever the trees fell, we would have to drag them up to the building site using nothing more than some winches we made onsite and a bit of muscle, which was no easy feat as each log weighed around 2 tons. Once the trees had been moved into position, the rangers would get to work cutting them into shape and making sure all the measurements were correct. Once all the pieces were assembled and fixed into their intended positions, the bases of them were buried in 8 ft–deep pits surrounded by a mixture of rocks and soil to support them. Thick cables attached to surrounding trees then secured the logs in place.

During the month or so I spent in the rainforest working on the bridge, our group managed to successfully build one side of the structure while also stabilising the path up to the site for future groups. While I was out in Borneo, two other groups travelled to Imbak and worked on the bridge, managing to complete the other side and also construct pathways from the rangers’ camp to the bridge itself. Three other groups travelled to neighboring Danum Valley, and worked on similar projects with equal success. If all goes well, the bridge should be finished this year and we will have successfully done our bit to help keep the rainforest safe for a while longer. The long-term goal is to teach the local people that the wildlife that surrounds them is something to admire and protect, not kill and sell for a quick paycheck; progress is slow, but change can be seen already with a notable drop in poaching crimes.

A couple of years ago, if you walked through Imbak Canyon, you probably wouldn’t have seen much apart from the occasional insect.  This was due to the extensive logging and hunting in the area. Since 1975, Borneo has lost around 25 per cent of its rainforests, and population numbers of some of the animals like the Pygmy Elephant have dropped by 50 per cent. But now, thanks to the work of local rangers and volunteer groups such as Raleigh, animals are gradually reclaiming the area. Just last year, a herd of pygmy elephants were spotted passing through, orangutans have been heard in the treetops, and macaques have been seen using the bridges to pass over the river. Penalties for hunting any of the wildlife range from a $5,000 fine up to ten years in prison. While the work is far from over, the positives are far outweighing the negatives at this point in time.

Most people understand the need for a change in the way we treat the environment. But few will do anything more than liking a picture on Facebook of some cute monkey about to go extinct, or chucking their beer bottles in the recycling. While not everyone has the time or urge to go to such an extreme and go to the rainforest, there are many other ways to do your part: whether it be helping to replant some native plants in your weekend, or even just walking somewhere instead of driving. If we carry on the way we are going, future generations will never know the beauty of the rainforests, or get to see an orangutan for themselves. It’s time to step up and make a difference.



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