A BioCultural Suvey of Gunung Bondang – the Sacred Mountain of Murung Raya

From December 2013 to January 2014 we began conducting our first full biodiversity and cultural survey of this isolated mountain peak in Central Kalimantan.

Forest types include degraded, primary and secondary lowland, sub-montane and moss forest. We were expecting to find high levels of endemicity, and were hopeful that new species might be discovered. Our biodiversity team was made up of  young Indonesian scientists from various universities.

The mountain also figures strongly in local traditions and beliefs, and as such we worked with our local partners the Borneo Institute to study the customary significance, mythology and cultural history of the mountain through interviews and multimedia documentation.

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Gunung Bondang is located at the site of the Green Icon.

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We are building a new website to host the results and multimedia which will be available soon. Below you can see the original goals and objectives of the expedition.

A BioCultural Survey

This expedition will see biologists working alongside cultural experts and local Dayaks, with an embedded creative team who will document our findings.

Gunung Bondang is an island of mixed habitat types in a sea of low, degraded and developed land. Relatively unexplored and almost completely unstudied, it is a majestic outcrop that is still untouched due to it’s cultural importance to the surrounding villages.

Mining and logging concessions, as well as agricultural developments, surround the mountain, but on it’s slopes good quality forest is still found. Logging here is taboo, and anyone who wishes to climb the mountain must take part in a 3 stage traditional ritual overseen by village elders, and involving local villagers.

As well as being a last bastion of quality forest for the local communities and biodiversity alike, we anticipate finding new species unique to the mountain, because the habitat here is so different to anything else in the locality. This is especially true of the approaches to the summit which boats stunning moss forest.

Camp Pongoniso

Gunung Bondang Protection Forest, Murung Raya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

Gunung Bondang has two small peaks connected by a drooping ridge, and is completely forested. There are four main buttresses that provide access to the peaks. The mountain is often covered in cloud, but we do not expect many heavy downpours during this time of the year.

Camp Pongoniso will be located in the foothills of the mountain, a few hours trek from the nearest village, Desa Saruhung. From here we can access the whole range of forest types, as well as ascending to the summit in 4-6hours. A small river, Sungei Pongoniso, provides our water for washing, cooking and drinking, while a small shelter and hammocks will be used for eating, sleeping, and working.

From Camp Pongoniso we will be about 6 hours from the nearest major settlement, Puruk Cahu, where basic medical facilities and evacuation services can be secured in the event of an emergency.

The Route In

The team will rendezvous in Palangkayaraya, Central Kalimantan, entering Borneo before travelling overland (6-12hrs) to Puruk Cahu where we store our equipment. Food will be bought here, as well as any other equipment needed. In Puruk Cahu we will have some formal work to do, meeting some government officials to present our work, as well as reporting to the police and other offices.

From here we will travel overland to the village of Saruhung where we will spend at least one night, planning, socialising, and probably drinking far too much arak during the ceremonial proceedings. .

Life at Camp Pongoniso

Camp Pongoniso will be small and very basic, located in a small clearing on the banks of a river. Construction will be minimal, with a series of wooden pole structures under tarpaulin. We will sleep in hammocks, wash in the river, and use a generator for power.

Communication with the outside world will be via sat phone, but we also hope to have the same satellite communications technology that allowed us to beam back videos and take part in live web chats online during the Murung Raya Expedition.

So this is no research hotel. We live in the environment, all day and all night, so team members must be disciplined in their personal hygiene and safety routines in order to stay safe and healthy (no foot rot please!). We will stay here for 4 weeks before breaking camp and beginning the long move back to civilisation.

We will attempt to recce alternative camp sites, although from our initial reconnaissance we are unsure if there are reliable water sources

Pioneering Research

We will attempt to survey all main species groups in order to build the first species inventory of the mountain. Alongside this, we will support and facilitate more specialised research.

We will attempt to survey mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, and vegetation at different elevations. Research techniques will include remote camera traps,  diurnal and nocturnal visual encounter surveys, point counts, pit fall traps, light traps, and vegetation plots, and we may also be able to conduct some canopy access.

This data will add to our knowledge and understanding of species distribution across Kalimantan, aiding conservation efforts, and will almost certainly introduce as yet undiscovered species to the world. In addition, the results will add to our understanding of island biogeography, and will provide important baseline data for future research into the effects of climate change or habitat destruction or, more hopefully, extension.

In combination, this work will also help communities and other interest groups to ensure the future conservation of this area, and others like it.

We are recruiting Research Leaders and Research Assistants for this expedition. Find out more in the ‘Positions’ tab.

Recording a Rich Cultural Heritage

Dayak mythology, legend and tradition around Gunung Bondang is as rich and endangered as the habitat found on the mountain itself.

As species go extinct every day, so do languages. And as a language dies, much is lost with it. As the Endangered Language Project describes:

“With every language that dies we lose an enormous cultural heritage; the understanding of how humans relate to the world around us; scientific, medical and botanical knowledge; and most importantly, we lose the expression of communities’ humour, love and life. In short, we lose the testimony of centuries of life.”

Where the communities we engage and work with express their desire to maintain, and often strengthen, their culture and preserve their heritage we are very pleased to help. The traditions, legends and beliefs of peoples who have developed in harmony with their natural surroundings have much to teach the peoples of industrialised nations about. But more important to the people of these communities is that their knowledge and customs are not lost in the coming years, as forests are destroyed and communities are absorbed into the globalised economy.

So alongside our biodiversity surveys we will conduct interviews with local people, and record their stories, songs, myths and traditions in a variety of media that can then be presented to their children, grandchildren, and to the wider world.  

Creative Documentation

Using, film, sound, photography, writing and art to document and share.

We will use a range of media to document  the expedition, our research activity, the physical environment, and any species we encounter. Of course we will be also be documenting the local culture as described in the Culture tab.

We will produce blogs and articles, short films, podcasts, and galleries of images and artworks, shared online via our website and those of our partners, and offline in exhibitions, talks, lectures, and shows. In this way we can educate and inspire people from all walks of life and all nationalities to engage with the environmental and cultural issues facing Borneo today.

We are still recruiting our Creative Team for this expedition. Find out more in the ‘Positions’ tab.

Sponsors and Opportunities

We’re very grateful to our sponsors and partners. If you would like to discuss sponsorship opportunities, either financial or in kind (equipment or services) please do get in touch.


Foyles logoCamp Foyle, our research site in the Bukit Batikap Protection Forest, is named after bookshop owner and philanthropist Christopher Foyle, who has been a major supported of the Heart of Borneo Project since our very first expedition
Livewire Digital ltd. logoLivewire Digital Ltd. continue to be one of our most generous and important sponsors. Not only do they supply us with state of the art satellite communications technology, but they support us with amazing software and services that allow us to send videos and galleries back from the field, and to broadcast live video from one off the most remote places on earth
GeoEyeFoundationLogoThe GeoEye Foundation has generously supported our work through their Imagery Grants program, supplying us with excellent satellite imagery to aid our community and biodiversity mapping.