Mongabay.com is considered a leading source of information on tropical forests by some of the world's top ecologists and conservationists. TROPICAL RAINFORESTS: Preface
Borneo rainforest in Sabah, Malaysia
Borneo rainforest. (Photo by R. Butler)

Preface: The mission of mongabay.com

By Rhett Butler  |  Last updated July 31, 2012

Lingering beside a small stream in the Malaysian rainforest of Sabah, on the island of Borneo, I watch the water move swiftly over worn, round stones. The pace of the flow quickens as the stream cascades over a short falls into a clear pool. Vibrantly colored butterflies in shades of yellow, orange, and green flirt with columns of light that penetrates the dense canopy. The raucous calls of hornbills challenge the melodic drone of cicadas. Though the forest is never silent or still it brings a deep sense of calm.

I sit with my feet in the cool water, picking over my clothes in search of leaf leaches, who seek a feeding opportunity in every crease of material. As I remove these brightly hued creatures, I am content to watch a lone male orangutan silently make his way through the branches above the stream. The idyllic setting and the company of my red bearded simian companion provide the perfect end to my half day trek.

Such wildlands provide me with a mental and emotional escape from the daily hustle and bustle and I have come to greatly appreciate places of natural wonder.

I have long had a fascination with the natural world and its creatures but the idea for this book arose out of deep sadness. Eight weeks after leaving that tract of Malaysian rainforest that had filled me with happiness, I learned the forest was gone. Logged for wood chips to supply a paper pulp plant, this place of natural wonder and beauty was lost forever. The orangutan, the hornbills, the butterflies, and even the leaches would now have to make do in their now dramatically changed environment.

Despite my few years in the forest, this was not the first time I had lost such a special place, nor will it be the last.

These personal losses have long troubled me, but the loss of that small section of forest in Borneo created the urgency to act upon a thought that had been nagging me. While environmental losses and degradation of the rainforests have yet to reach the point of collapse, the continuing disappearance of wildlands and loss of its species is disheartening. I feel sorrow for those who have yet had the privilege to experience the magnificence of these places and try to picture how - should biodiversity losses continue to mount - I will explain to my grandchildren why these places of natural wonder that I enjoyed in my youth no longer exist.

The lesson of A Place Out of Time is we may not have to accept this future. A lot can still be done. Using our intelligence and ingenuity, the human species can preserve biodiversity and unique places for future generations, without compromising the quality of life for present populations.

Me speaking about the inspiration for mongabay.com during a test run ahead of my TEDxYouth talk.

A Place Out of Time is written for those who have an interest in the natural world. It is scripted to appeal to a broad audience so that readers from grade school students to stockbrokers to plumbers can enjoy and learn from this book. I have sought to broaden the reach and horizons of this text by incorporating and bringing together far flung (and sometimes seemingly unrelated) information from a variety of sources not easily accessible to most readers. In the process I have tried to simplify the sometimes complex subject matter and provide some insight into the current economic, political, and social climate for tropical rainforests.

Continued / Next:

Continued: Tropical rainforests

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Biogeographical Forest Realms

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