Race for the Rainforest - Borneo 2021

Posted on 29th July 2019 |

In 2005 I visited the beautiful island of Borneo for a family holiday. Many years later in 2018 I listened to a talk to a group of business leaders in Cheshire by the CEO of Chester Zoo Dr Mark Pilgrim, about the devastating effects of deforestation caused by the palm oil industry over the last two decades. I was struck and deeply saddened by the huge loss of habitat and biodiversity in the time since I'd visited.

The Borneo forests are the most ancient rainforests on the planet, home to the richest biodiversity and some of the most unique species on Earth, however Indonesia and Malaysia produce over 85% of the world's palm oil. Without giving you too many stats and figures, the simple fact is that deforestation in Borneo has happened on an industrial scale since the 1960’s, accelerating dramatically in the last decade. Only half of Borneo’s rainforest remains today and with a deforestation rate of 1.3million hectares per annum, only peat and montane forests are expected to survive in the coming years unless we do something to change the current trajectory. 

Populations of Sumatran Rhinos, Sumatran Tigers, Orangutans, Pygmy Elephants and many more rare and unique species have been devastated and remain critically endangered if not 'functionally' extinct (ie: not enough of the species left in the wild to function as a healthy population without the help of zoos and support from conservation experts). 

So, last year I began talks with the zoo to try to do something about it. Chester Zoo have been doing conservation work in Malaysia and Indonesia for many years and through their partners Hutan, they've been delivering some really innovative projects to reforest and maintain habitats in order to protect endangered species. Understanding their work a little more, I realised that to achieve their conservation ambitions, they need funds. Not only that, but in order to achieve meaningful and lasting change systems and economies to prevent the further growth of the 'unsustainable' palm oil industry (note the word 'unsustainable' - it appears we can actually grow the stuff sustainably and there's a big difference), consumer countries like the UK will need to take a completely different approach to the way it's supply chains operate, an area the zoo has been leading on over recent years to educate and inform those who can influence positive change, eg: the ‘Sustainable Palm Oil City’ campaign (see - https://www.chesterzoo.org/news/chester-named-worlds-first-sustainable-palm-oil-city-2/). 

Having looked into a variety of endurance challenges that might warrant suitable fundraising opportunities, we finally decided on probably the most ambitious of all of them. Each year, around March time, over 1,500 athletes compete in the Borneo Ultra Trail Marathon, a merciless footrace through the Sabah jungle in Borneo, with 30k, 50k, 100k and 100 mile race options. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but given the variety of race distances making it more inclusive for competitors of varying abilities we felt it was ideal. Running an ultra-marathon (defined as a foot race above the distance of a usual 26.2 mile marathon) for most people isn’t about competing or beating a time, instead it’s more about just finishing. In 2021 we’re taking a group of influential business leaders to Borneo to race in the BUTM to raise much-needed funds for the zoo’s reforestation work and probably even more importantly, to witness the biodiversity crisis first hand – the idea being they’ll return to the UK with a burning passion to influence change in supply chains through their roles in business.

We’re actively looking for sponsors and competitors right now. If you’re interested in lacing up your trainers and joining the adventure to make a real difference, please contact me directly and I’ll be happy to talk through the plans ahead of our launch event at Chester Zoo on September 25th, where myself, Dr Mark Pilgrim and Major Lucy Scott (winner of this year's 100k distance race) will be explaining more about what's involved. Or, if you’d simply like to donate, then please follow the link below….https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/Race-For-The-Rainforest-2021

Thanks 

Rob

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