Albert Teo – A Man With A Green Mission
When Mother Nature created her bounty on earth, Sabah was gifted a lion share. It is an enchanting land blessed with lofty mountains, miles of shoreline with sandy beaches, idyllic islands and one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Its pristine rainforests teem with rare and endangered wildlife including orang utans, Bornean pygmy elephants endemic only to Sabah, proboscis monkeys, Sumatran rhinoceros, sun bears and hornbills among other wonderful creatures. The rich tribal heritage adds to the spice of the culture.
Such priceless natural treasures attract mass tourism and sadly, as well as plunderers of the land for commercial gains, gradually depleting the treasure trove. Vast tracts of forest have already been cleared for palm oil plantations and logging. Tourism is a double-edged sword. Whilst it brings beneficial revenue to the state, it could also destroy the environment if uncontrolled and not managed properly.
But fortunately there are eco-stormtroopers around to defend one of the last bastions of biodiversity hot spots in the world. One of these knights in green armour is Albert Teo, a man with a mission to champion the cause of saving Sabah.
Albert Teo’s Sukau Rainforest Lodge Flying The Green Flag
After Teo graduated in Economics (Honours) from University of London, he joined the tourism industry. He has been in the industry since 1977 initially as an hotelier then branching into tour operation when he founded Borneo Eco Tours in 1991, a company specialising in nature tourism in Sarawak and Sabah, the Malaysian Bornean states.
This was his stepping-stone into responsible tourism since the mainstay of his business is nature-based adventure. In 1995 Teo opened Sukau Rainforest Lodge, an eco-friendly lodge nestled on the bank of the Kinabatangan River, which cradled the largest floodplain in Malaysia and home to a diverse ecosystem of vegetation and wildlife as mentioned above.
Sukau Rainforest Lodge becomes the flagship of Teo’s vision of sustainable tourism by harvesting nature’s gift to the earth. The lodge maximises as much green energy as possible without compromising the comforts of guests. Water supply is collected from the abundance of rainwater as nature intended in a tropical country and showers in the rooms are heated by solar energy. Oil lamps from recycled cooking oil supplement lighting from generators. River safaris to observe wildlife along the Kinabatangan are conducted in electric boats and eco-friendly outboard engines.
I had a firsthand experience staying at the gorgeous lodge built in traditional Malaysian architecture in harmony with the natural environment with as little destruction as possible to the natural habitat. Indeed the forest around the lodge attracts quite a number of wildlife such as many species of birds, macaques, squirrels and even elephants and orang utans among others. Its Hornbill Broadwalk, an elevated wooden walkway for guests to enjoy the enchanting rainforest has two elephant passages for the pachyderms to travel on their migratory route. Even the wildlife’s welfare has been taken into consideration.
Such outstanding practices have won Sukau Rainforest Lodge multiple awards and the jewel in the crown is the acceptance by National Geographic as a charter member of “National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World”, a much-coveted acclaim by resorts worldwide. Many distinguished scientists, researchers and guests including Sir David Attenborough have stayed at Sukau Rainforest Lodge. The lodge has also provided employment for the local tribal community. Teo’s company has contributed to the welfare of the local people through medical care and scholarship for training local guides; clearing the river of suffocating weeds; rehabilitation of birds and planting of trees and many other community services.
My Land Is Your Land
Albert Teo does not rest on his laurels over the success of Sukau Rainforest Lodge. He is a visionary who can foresee the danger of over harvesting the natural resources of the land. As a long-standing and established professional in the travel industry, Teo is in it for the long haul. He feels that tour companies and the government have to invest in protecting the environment in order to benefit from tourism in perpetuity. He realises that instant gratification may bring them the bucks today but what about tomorrow when the coffers dry up. He made it his mission to be a conservationist and environmentalist to champion responsible tourism with sustainability as its priority long before the word ecotourism was fashionable.
Teo also feels strongly that the fruits of the labour should be shared with the rural people who live on the land for mutual benefit. He works in collaboration with academia, institutions, government agencies, NGOs and private sector organisations to achieve this goal. To this end, he has organised and chaired numerous ecotourism conferences and forums and gave lectures in Malaysia and international arena. Among other accolades, he was recently conferred as Adjunct Professor of University of Malaysia Sabah.
As a keen photographer, Teo has trekked over 1000km in Borneo to capture the magic of nature and has published ten books to illustrate the importance of conservation. Among the best sellers are Sabah -Land of the Sacred Mountain; Journey Through Borneo; Saving Paradise-The Story of Sukau Rainforest Lodge co-authored with Carol Patterson; and his latest A Souvenir Of Sabah Malaysian Borneo.
The BEST Way Forward
Teo and his team believe in the famous Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”. He develops a social entrepreneurship through his community and environmental foundation called Borneo Ecotourism Solutions and Technologies (BEST) Society with the aim to improve human life and alleviate poverty particularly among the rural community. The Society adopts a United Nations’ sustainable development goals as their guiding principles in their projects. The foundation’s mission is “To develop business, human and knowledge capital in rural communities through capacity building, skill training, technical assistance and leadership development programs of the local communities and to develop small enterprises through social entrepreneurship”.
Teo explained, “At this stage of my life my mission is to impact more lives through my social entrepreneurship projects. Professionally, I am working to develop my leadership pipeline in my companies. In the community projects I am hoping to be a change agent through our NGO, BEST SOCIETY applying solutions and technologies to alleviate poverty. I see this as an integrated approach to community transformation through using ecotourism as a catalyst.”
I visited Teo’s latest project at Kiulu Farmstay, a village about 60km from Kota Kinabalu the capital of Sabah, to see first hand his community based ecotourism enterprise. Set in a gorgeous valley by the cascading Kiulu River, the village known as the “valley in the mist” due to the ethereal veil of mist in the morning is an awesome vista of patchworks of emerald green paddy fields, plantations and forest. The warm hospitality of the Dusun tribe of the villages of Mantob, Dumpiring and Pinagon Baru in Kiulu make visitors feel very welcome. The project is to empower the villagers to alleviate poverty and be self-efficient by improving their traditional method of farming through modern technology to reap better yields.
With a rich cache of attractions in the valley, Teo envisioned an integrated eco-friendly destination where visitors can experience an authentic native village lifestyle in homestays living in the homes of the villagers or in farmstay in the Fig Tree, a rustic chic chalet for guests who want more privacy.
They can indulge in outdoor pursuits such as buffalo riding, rubber tubing on the river, hiking and quad biking for adrenaline junkies to have thrilling rides off road to see the stunning countryside. Training is also given to hosts of homestays and The Fig Tree on how to look after the guests. It also provides employment for the villagers as housekeepers, cooks, guides and other operational duties. Kiulu Farmstay is poised to be the flag bearer of a rural community ecotourism that will set a trend for the future.
On a recent trip to Sukau Rainforest Lodge with his family including Teo’s two toddler grandsons, William and Edward, they spotted some rare pygmy elephants on the bank of the Kinabatangan. Teo wrote a poignant post on his Facebook, “I was never that lucky nor privileged when I was their age. I hope to do my part to conserve for their future.” And for all children and grandchildren of today.
For a world class nature tours and holidays in Borneo, contact Borneo Eco Tours, the people who care for the environment as Mother Nature intended. Sukau Rainforest Lodge contributes a certain percentage of the proceeds from international guests’ tour booking towards community and conservation projects.