The Wasting of Borneo: Dispatches From a Vanishing World
Where: The Explorers Club
46 E. 70th St.
212-628-8383 Price: $25
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Alex Shoumatoff’s new book, The Wasting of Borneo, his eleventh, is about the destruction of the world’s most ancient and species-rich rain forest — Borneo’s lowland rain forest — by the palm-oil and logging industries. In 2012 he visited Birute Galdikas and the orangutans she has devoted her life to, in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. This fall, peat fires from rain forest cleared and burned for conversion to oil palm plantations, raged for months and thousands of orangutans died of starvation and smoke inhalation. In 2013, he camped for ten days with one of the last bands of semi-nomadic Penan hunter gatherers in Sarawak, the heart of the island, which is being devastated by logging. Few Americans are aware that the greatest destruction of biodiversity on the planet is happening here, and that we are implicated. Half our household products contain palm oil.
Alex Shoumatoff’s first book, Florida Ramble, was published in 1974. In the fall of 1976 he spent nine months in the Amazon researching a Sierra Club book, The Rivers Amazon, which has been compared to the classics of Roosevelt and Bates. His next book, Westchester: Portrait of a County, was excerpted in the New Yorker, for whom Shoumatoff became a staff writer in l979. There he wrote long form pieces that were then developed as books: The Capital of Hope, Russian Blood, The Mountain of Names, In Southern Light. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985.
In 1986, Shoumatoff wrote a profile of Dian Fossey for the newly resurrected Vanity Fair that was inspired the movie, Gorillas in the Mist and was collected in African Madness. He covered ousted dictators for Vanity Fair (Stroessner, Bokassa Mengistu, Mobutu) and wrote a seminal piece on Tibet and the Dalai Lama. His 1989 piece about Chico Mendes, the murdered leader of the Amazon’s rubber tappers, was optioned by Robert Redford and expanded into The World is Burning.
Agony and Ivory — about the slaughter of Africa’s elephants and the smuggling of their tusks to China — and Positively 44th Street — a portrait and memoir of the block between Sixth and Sixth avenues — are recent Vanity Fair pieces, and he has done recent pieces for Smithsonian Magazine on the sandhill crane spring gathering in Nebraska, the white spirit bear of British Columbia, the devastation of Borneo’s rain forest, and a forthcoming piece on giraffes.
Shoumatoff was born in Mt. Kisco, New York, on November 4, 1946. After graduating from Harvard College in 1968, he worked on The Washington Post, as a singer-songwriter, and as the resident naturalist at a wildlife sanctuary in Westchester County.Buy tickets/get more info now