In September 2015 a team of young conservationists, photographers and filmmakers from Indonesia and the UK will embark on an expedition to explore and document the Tane’ Olen of Long Setulang: a large area of pristine, community-owned rainforest in North Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo.

The Tane’ Olen is a 5300ha area of primary lowland rainforest owned and protected by the villagers of Long Setulang: members of the Oma’ Lung tribe of Kenyah Dayaks. The forest provides the village with clean drinking water and protection from landslides, traditional medicines, timber for village buildings, sustenance from fish, meat, fruit and vegetables, and a huge range of other non-timber forest produce such as rattan, some of which provide sustainable sources of income. The forest is also the one of the flagship sites in the regional development of a green economy, with sustainable tourism at its heart.

More widely, the Tane’ Olen is an important sanctuary for countless species, many of which are endangered as a result of the phenomenal rate of deforestation that the island of Borneo has suffered in recent decades. Wider still, the protection of rainforests is vital to the fight against climate change, and the Tane’ Olen is therefore also important to the international community.

The expedition to this culturally and ecologically important area will concentrate on exploration and documentation, following a technique known as a rapid assessment visual expedition (RAVE), with the goal of supporting the long-standing local efforts to conserve the forest. It is a collaboration between Indonesian and UK universities, charities, and institutions, and the Setulang Village community.

RAVE stands for Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition, and follows the principles of its more scientific forbear, the rapid biodiversity assessment or rapid biodiversity inventory (RBA/RBI).

The idea at its most elemental is very straightforward: take a team of professionals into the target area and document what is discovered. An RBA/RBI expedition will build up an inventory of species identified during the expedition: a RAVE on the other hand focuses on creating compelling visual media.

Just like and RBA, the defining feature of a RAVE is speed: the goal is maximum impact in a short, highly focused period of time. The expedition team will travel to the site together, before splitting into small teams with specialised objectives, such as mapping, filming, or amphibian photography. The team will spend at least one week in the rainforest, working long days and nights to capture as much as possible in the short time available, attempting to meet the many expedition objectives along the way.

The Modern Heart of Borneo

The island of Borneo is three times the size of the UK and was once covered coast to coast by tropical forests, from mangrove swamps to montane forest, with huge swathes of lowland rainforest and peat swamp forest in between, along with smaller patches of freshwater swamps and limestone forest scattered here and there. Home to orang-utans, clouded leopards, hornbills, and countless other species, the island was, and still is, home to one of the most biodiverse and complex ecosystems on earth.

Tragically, exploitation of these forests and the land and resources underneath them became rampant from the 1980s onwards, and today over half of the original forest is gone, and only a quarter remains intact, the other quarter being degraded and fragmented.

What remains is still vast (it represents the third largest rainforest on earth), though vulnerable, and yet vital for the health and well-being of biodiversity, local people, and the global climate, making it an international conservation priority. The three Borneo nations – Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei – have a small window of opportunity to protect what remains before it is too late, and there are encouraging signs that this opportunity may be realised.

One such sign was the signing of the tri-lateral Heart of Borneo Initiative declaration in 2007, which committed the three nations to sustainably manage a large area of mostly upland and montane rainforest in the centre of the island. Others include the Indonesian moratorium on new concessions on peat lands and primary forests, and the establishment of mechanisms to grant indigenous communities legal ownership of their land for the first time.

Long Setulang and Community Forests

The first village in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) to win such legal recognition was the village of Long Setulang in North Kalimantan (then East Kalimantan). The people of Long Setulang had for years defended an area of primary rainforest – their Tane’ Olen, or “protected forest” – from various logging companies interested in exploiting it. They decided early on to wait and see how neighbouring villages who had decided to sell access to their forests benefitted from the deal. When they saw that those villages lost so much, including clean drinking water and hunting grounds, but gained very little, they knew it was in their best interests not to sell.

Instead, Long Setulang is hoping to earn income from the Tane’Olen through sustainable eco- and cultural-tourism, but it has a long way to go and will require much support before realising that goal: basic infrastructure is sorely lacking, not enough is known about the ecology of the area, and the village lacks many of the skills required to take real ownership of local tourism industry. Some excellent research into forest structure and potential was conducted between 2004 and 2006 by CIFOR, but it seems that there has been little follow up work since. The village reports that some limited research into amphibian biodiversity was conducted but no records of this are available at the time of writing.

Expedition Rationale

The Borneo RAVE 2015 is a collaborative project aimed at supporting the village in these goals, by promoting the area during and after the expedition and making tangible contributions to the ability of the village and tourism department to promote the site as a destination; making suggestions and recommendations concerning the development of tourism to the village and government in formal report; and adding to the geographical and cultural data and understanding of the area in order to inform and support follow up work, such as species inventories or the development of a trail network.

The primary aim of the expedition is to support local conservation and sustainable development efforts in Long Setulang and the wider Malinau district. Second to this, the expedition aims to raise awareness of and build empathy towards the Heart of Borneo rainforest, the people, plants and animals that rely on it and their uncertain future, and the work of the expedition partners in the area. Finally, the expedition aims to support the professional and personal development of expedition team.

To achieve these aims, the expedition will pursue the following objectives:


  • Use to GPS and photography to ground-truth and document trails and sites of cultural, scientific, and touristic interest


  • Create a diverse body of professional quality images, video, and other media for promotional and educational use
  • Record wildlife sightings in order to begin building a species inventory of the area
  • Record traditional Oma’ Lung folklore, myths, stories and songs connected to the forest
  • Combine the best of the photography to produce an attractive expedition report in the form a book

Capacity Building

  • Donate a complete image library to the people of Long Setulang, local government, and other stakeholders as a tool for promotion, education, and outreach.
  • Produce a report for local stakeholders with observations and suggestions relevant to the development of a sustainable tourism industry in Long Setulang
  • Contribute to existing efforts to train local people as guides and wardens


  • Exhibit the best images at venues in the UK and Indonesia
  • Produce and tour a film of the expedition
  • Engage an international audience online through social media and digital publications
  • Educate and inspire live audiences with lectures and talks about the expedition
  • Write popular articles for magazines and newspapers

Personal and Professional Development of Team Members

  • Create opportunities for professional networking between team members and relevant parties in Indonesia
  • Support the aspirations of team members to learn and develop professional expedition related skills
  • Maximise the potential opportunities for cultural exchange during the expeditions
  • Support the goals of individual team members (eg in creating enough work to produce their own photographic book based on the expedition)
  • Build local capacity by sharing professional photographic skills and advice