Borneo Nature Foundation and Covid-19: Opportunities and Challenges

Like everyone else, the Borneo Nature Foundation (BNF) is having to deal with the extraordinary global situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our highest priority is the safety and well-being of our staff, their families and the communities we work with, and the wildlife we study and work so hard to protect, and we are therefore taking a variety of steps to help safeguard these. This includes developing and regularly updating internal policies to reduce COVID-19 risk for all parties. Our field monitoring research in Sebangau and Rungan is continuing at present, but we have suspended the direct follows on orangutans, gibbons and red langurs that form the core of our long-term primate behavioural ecology research to avoid any close contact and unnecessary risk to the primates we have protected and studied for many years.

As it becomes increasingly apparent that the threat of COVID-19 is not going to rescind any time soon, and Indonesia and other countries grapple with life under the “new normal”, we are now trying to devise an appropriate longer-term primate research strategy that suitably balances the potential harms associated with both COVID-19 and the current cessation of this research. We welcome discussion within the Primate Society of Great Britain (PSGB) and wider primatology community to this end. BNF’s teams are working remotely to ensure our efforts to protect the Rungan Landscape continue, maintaining communication with all the key stakeholders and continuing to advance habitat-protection plans.

BNF are carrying on our vital conservation actions in the Sebangau National Peat-swamp Forest, including reforestation and canal-blocking, anti-logging and anti-hunting patrols, and maintaining the community fire-fighting teams in a state of readiness. These activities and our remaining biodiversity monitoring research typically involve small teams working in areas away from human habitation, so have been able to continue relatively unaffected, albeit with some modifications to reduce COVID-19 risk.

We will do whatever we can to keep these essential conservation actions going, whatever happens in the coming months. Other education, training and outreach activities that would normally involve (large) physical groupings have inevitably been heavily affected, though our innovative team members have been able to devise ways for most of these to still continue to some extent in a COVID-safe way, observing and following the Indonesian government protocols. This includes carrying out all meetings remotely using Zoom or other platforms wherever possible, and where not online then meetings are limited to a maximum of 5–7 people, with larger physical gatherings postponed until the situation improves and the local emergency status is lifted, temporarily suspending all school visits and distributing printed materials, reducing group sizes of our children’s clubs and following health protocols to ensure their safety. We have embraced the use of online communication with webinars in English and Indonesian to help communicate our work to a wide audience. We are continuing to monitor the situation, international guidance from the WHO, etc., and instructions from the local and national government about minimising contact and reducing the spread of the virus in Kalimantan. Please stay safe and healthy, wherever you are in the world and thank you for your ongoing support at this difficult time.

Susan M Cheyne, Helen C Morrogh-Bernard and Mark E Harrison