What Should I Know About Borneo?

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  • Written By: Michael Anissimov
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2019
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Borneo, located in Southeast Asia, is the world's third largest island, with a land area of 743,330 sq km (287,000 sq mi), larger than Texas. Only Greenland and New Guinea (a few hundred miles to the east) are larger. Borneo is divided up between three countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, with Indonesia administering the largest portion. Borneo is covered in rainforest, like much of Southeast Asia. The rainforest of Borneo is acknowledged to be among the world's most distinct and species-rich, topped in biodiversity only by the Congo Rainforest in Africa and the Amazon Rainforest in South America. This has made Borneo a very popular destination for eco-tourism.


The population of Borneo is about 16 million, making for a relatively low population density of 57/sq mi, or 22/sq km. The largest city on Borneo is Kuching, Malaysia, with a population of about 630,000. There are about ten other major cities on the island, ranging in population from 200,000 to 600,000. Of particular historical interest is the small country of Brunei, the remnant of a sultanate that controlled almost all shipping in the area between the 14th and 16th centuries, during the heyday of Islamic seafaring. Today, the Sultan of Brunei, who holds absolute power, is the world's fourth richest monarch, behind only the monarches of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Thailand. His palace, with 1,788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, and a floor area of 2,152,782 square feet (200,000 sq m), is the world's largest by a huge margin.

Ultimately, the highlight of Borneo is its nature, not its (mostly small) cities. Borneo has 15,000 species of flowering plants with 3,000 species of trees, 221 species of terrestrial mammals, and 420 species of birds, many of which are endemic. Borneo is west of the Wallace Line, meaning its flora and fauna are derived from Asia rather than Australia. The Bornean Orangutan makes its home here, the 45,000 individuals making up the world's largest orangutan population. Other unique or endangered species found here include the Asian Elephant, Bornean Clouded Leopard, Sumatran Rhinoceros, and the Dayak Fruit Bat. The Sumatran Rhinoceros is among the world's most endangered animals, with only a few hundred living individuals.

The island of Borneo is the location of many beautiful cloud forests, often nestled in the mountains of the island, where moisture is so thick that moss grows on practically everything. Some of the best known cloud forests are found around Mt. Kinabalu, located at the northern tip of the island. Mt. Kinabalu's altitude of 4,095 meters (13,435 ft) makes it the tallest mountain on Borneo, also making Borneo the world's third tallest island, behind Hawaii and New Guinea.


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