Green Brunei's eco-tourism potential
With massive deforestation elsewhere in Borneo, Brunei's efforts with the Heart of Borneo project have become essential in combating the destruction of her incredibly rich flora and fauna.
With over 70% of Brunei's land covered with primary rainforest, Brunei is one of the most densely covered countries in the world, with hundreds of species of animals native only to Brunei.
Unlike other countries, a visitor only has to take a boat ride down the Brunei River, or even a short walk into the jungle to encounter thick mangroves, proboscis monkeys or maybe even the occasional crocodile.
One of the most beautiful things about Brunei is the way in which its wildlife seems to blend in with the new man-made environment.
Take Mabohai's famous monkeys for instance, built just in front of a thick jungle, the troupe of monkeys that frequents have probably been there for longer than the supermarket itself. Rather than utterly wiping out their habitat, people do their part by feeding them and it's not uncommon for shoppers to see the occasional monkey swinging from a lamp post or casually strolling around the parking lot.
Whilst the occasional monkey might be an appealing feature for some, similarly, the monkey population is strong enough to steal fruit off of fruit trees in residential areas. Easily remedied by putting black plastic bags over the fruit, this relatively mild response is symbolic of the easy going relationship here in Brunei between humans and wildlife.
With such bountiful natural gifts, Brunei is a prime target for a booming eco-tourism industry.
Well situated as a mid-way point between Europe and Australia, Brunei received up to one million foreign tourists in 2003, most staying for little more than three days as part of a stop-over.
If Brunei were able to harness this vast number of tourists it would open up an enormous amount of employment which would indirectly address a number of social ills, the biggest of which being simply boredom.
Fifteen years ago, Temburong's eco-tourism industry was massively underdeveloped. Host to the occasional intrepid explorer and small groups of students on school excursions; Temburong has come a long way. With the Outward Bound Centre freshly renovated and a slew of other eco-lodges established in recent years, Temburong is fast becoming a hot destination for tourists in Brunei seeking white water thrills and incredible rainforest beauty.
At Brunei's current rate, she is fast fulfilling her goal to increase the number of tourists visiting Brunei by 7% annually, the average Gadong-goer would be helpless to agree with hundreds of tourists from as far away as Japan and Australia descending on shops at least once a week, snapping up DVD's and emptying restaurant's kitchens.
So far the Brunei Government has done an excellent job in tapping into what will soon become a key industry for Brunei. In the next fifty years, it would be of utmost importance to ween Brunei's economy off of crude oil and natural gas exports as supplies begin to dwindle.
Eco-tourism offers to be the next brightest natural gift that Brunei has to offer the world.