While exploring the Malaysian Sabah District of Borneo, British actress Dame Judi Dench was struck by the vast forests and incredible wildlife, but what might be most exciting is that she left with such a sense of hope. In this interview published in Global Oils & Fats magazine, Dench talks about filming the two-part ITV documentary, “Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure.”
Dench experienced firsthand the thriving wildlife in the area, and was impressed by the work done by scientists and conservationists. “Since arriving back from Borneo, I have not stopped talking about the wildlife. I saw an orangutan on the first day and a lot of macaques; two rhinoceros hornbills flew over within a couple of hours of our arrival. We also saw snakes, moths, cockroaches, dung beetles, elephants, crocodiles and sun bears. How lucky we were!” It seems the leeches – which she held and learned are helpful tools for scientists – are maybe the only critter she’s OK not seeing for a while.
Dench toured the rainforests in Danum Valley and was “astounded by the work of the scientific researchers at South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership.” On her way to Danum Valley, Dench flew over oil palm plantations, and she “discovered just how complex and nuanced” the palm oil industry is. “It supports the livelihoods of so many people,” she explained. “I’ve been told that just one small lot of land can pay for three children to go to university.”
Oil palm trees grow for nearly 30 years before needing to be replaced, providing a lush habitat for many animals. The Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certification program encourages sustainable practices, and at least 50 percent of Malaysia’s rainforests are protected forever. “I’m more hopeful than I was before I arrived here,” Dench said after seeing the land firsthand.
She said she’s learning more about how to help the area’s animals: “For example, I’ve met some wonderful scientists working to create crucial wildlife corridors, so that the orangutan and elephants, and many more animals, can move between areas of fragmented forest.”
Malaysia’s palm oil industry supports and drives wildlife sanctuaries throughout the country. The country is the world leader in orangutan conservation.
Dench’s excitement to share a message of hope with viewers is clear, along with her passion and love for wildlife and forests. “In Borneo you have the tallest and oldest trees in the tropics! How could anyone who comes to Sabah not fall in love with these spectacular giants – they’re breathtaking.”