Dame Judi Dench in the Tropical Rainforests of Sabah


What do you think of your trip to Borneo so far? What will you tell people about it/on the documentary?

Words can barely describe it. I have truly had the most wonderful time exploring Borneo’s vast forests and encountering the incredible wildlife here. I can’t share too much about what the film will cover, but I think what might surprise people who watch the documentary is just how much hope there still is here. We know this part of the world is struggling with deforestation and diminishing wildlife populations, but on this trip, I’ve met so many scientists and conservationists who are thankfully doing such incredible and important work here to protect the trees and the wildlife. It’s truly inspirational.

What are you looking forward to after seeing the rainforests in Danum Valley and learning about the conservation work done by SEARRP?

Danum Valley has been a wonderful adventure, and I’m astounded  by the work of the scientific researchers at SEARRP. After Danum Valley, I’m really looking forward to exploring the forests along the Kinabatangan River, which I understand have suffered from extreme habitat loss over the years. I’m eager to better understand how wildlife, like the orangutans, are adapting to the changes, and find out what we can do about the poor baby orangutans who are often left orphaned by the conflict.

Did you see any wildlife?

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, 2 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! 

Any thoughts on leeches?

I normally hate anything remotely worm-like…but since being in Sabah I’ve actually held a leech in my hand! They move so peculiarly, it’s fascinating. And I have now learned that they can actually be extremely helpful tools for scientists who want to learn more about the mammals living in the Bornean rainforests. That all said, I do look forward to never wearing leech socks again…

How can the film industry contribute to preserving the rainforests in Borneo?

I think documentary films can play a very important role in educating the general public on the species that depend on these forests, which in turn may encourage them to do their part to help conserve them. I’m very hopeful that this film will show people that it’s not too late, and there are things that can be done to preserve and protect what is left.

How can people develop their own passion for trees?

Well personally, I’ve always had a natural and instinctive love of trees. Nothing makes me happier than walking in my own garden in Surrey amongst my oak trees. But here 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 breath-taking to stand beneath. I even had the opportunity to be hauled up 35m to be within the canopy – something I will never forget.

You would’ve seen some oil-palm plantations on your way here. What are your thoughts about the palm oil industry and community that depends on it for their livelihood?

Yes, I was lucky enough to get to fly over these plantations in an incredible helicopter journey to Danum Valley. Since then I’ve discovered just how complex and nuanced the issue really is. It’s caused such destruction, in Borneo and beyond. But it also supports the livelihoods of so many people – I’ve been told that just one small lot of land can pay for 3 children to go to university. Thankfully I’m learning that there are all sorts of ways of working together to protect what’s left of the forest and help the animals to survive in a changing environment. For example, I’ve met some wonderful scientists working to create crucial wildlife corridors – so that orangutans and elephants and many more animals can move between areas of fragmented forest without coming into conflict with plantation owners. It’s undoubtedly a very complex issue, but I’m more hopeful than I was before I arrived here.