It was a long holiday period in Singapore with Hari Raya Puasa and National Day. While most people will be in celebration mood and spending time watching the parade and fireworks, my friends and I decided to spend the holiday somewhere exotic and quiet…in the jungles of Borneo. We departed from Singapore and flew to Kuala Lumpur and transferred to a domestic flight to Sandakan, Sabah (ensure you have about 3 hours in between flights). At Sandakan airport, we hired a taxi for 35RM for a 30mins ride to Uncle Tan Wildlife Adventures Operation Base located at Sepilok. Upon reaching, the friendly staff prepared vegetarian dinner for us which were really delicious. We spent a night at the Ops base in a very simple accommodation with only a queen size bed and surprisingly with air-conditioning.
Our accomodation at Uncle Tan Ops Base
The next morning, we had breakfast (they do provide food for vegetarian and taste really good) before departing to the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre just about 5mins drive away from the Ops base. The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is a place where wild orphaned baby orang utans are being rescued from poaching, deforestation sites or been kept as pets. They are being placed in 11 acres of mostly virgin rainforest where park rangers monitor their progress and rehabilitation process, so that one day they can be released back into the wild. The centre was packed with tourist eager to see the endangered great ape. Each morning, there is a feeding session for the orang utans. Fruits were placed on a wooden platform for the apes to come down and feed. However, sightings of orang utans are not guaranteed as they are wild and free ranging. Most orang utans who are able to look after themselves will not come down for the feeding sessions as they are able to find their own food in the forest. The ones that come to feed are usually the younger ones who still depend on the park rangers to look after them. As we approached the feeding area, we waited eagerly for the first glimpse of the great ape. Slowly, the trees started to rustle and a flash of reddish orange can be seen in the thickets. The first Bornean Orang Utan, (Pongo pygmaeus) appears, making its way to the feeding platform, and then followed by the rest. It was a wonderful sight seeing these great apes swinging around the vines and enjoying their meal. A pair of Southern Pig-tailed Macaques (Macaca nemestrina) also joined in the feeding frenzy, much to the delight of the visitors. After the fruits have all been eaten, the orang utans slowly made their way back into the forest and disappear. During the feeding, we sighted a Rhinoceros Hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) high up in the tree.
Waiting for the Orang Utans to arrive
We proceeded along the path to look for more sightings, and spotted a young orang utan resting up on a tree just above our heads looking down at us. I stayed for a little while observing the little one before making my way to leave it in peace. Not long after, I came across a Green-crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella) among the green leaves. It look slightly different from the ones back in Singapore as it has blue spots around the back of its body and yellow eyes compared to the plain green body and reddish eyes of the Singapore species. We later made our way out of the centre and went back to Ops base for lunch before departing for the wildlife camp.
Bornean Orang Utans:
Southern Pig-tailed Macaque:
As we boarded the mini bus and proceed to the jetty to take the boat ride to camp, it began to rain heavily. We wrapped ourselves with plastic bags as we board the boat at the jetty. The boat speeds up into the Kinabatangan River, the second longest river in Malaysia, as rain splatter heavily on us. Our first boat ride on the river was not a pleasant one as cold winds blew towards us under the pouring rain, and the trip to the camp was a long journey. When we finally reached camp, we were being arranged by the staffs to our accommodation. It is very basic in the form of raised wooden huts with no doors or windows, situated in the middle of the swamp. There is electricity only from 6pm to midnight. We were then given briefing by the guide and had our dinner, after which we proceed for the night boat safari.
Our wildlife camp:
The first wildlife we saw were a group of egrets resting on the tree tops, followed by a Stork-billed Kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis) resting above the river bank. The guide had a powerful torch to illuminate the animal and I was able to get a few shots of it. We slowly cruise along the river looking for more wildlife. The guide caught an eye shine and headed towards the river bank, where we spotted a Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga). It was clinging on a tree trunk foraging before walking into the thickets. Sadly I was not able to get any shot of it as I only get to see it for a few seconds. We continued our search and soon we got another eye shine and moved in. It was another small mammal, but I could only see its long tail and hind legs with dark colored coat as it scurry into the bushes. It could have been a civet or cat species. Yet again, another disappointment as I could not get any pictures. The search goes on, I was following the area that the guide was shining on and soon I spotted a figure sitting by the river, and of course the guide had spotted it as well. It was a Buffy Fish Owl (Bubo ketupu ketupu). It was then realized that there were two of them, with one feeding on a rat it caught. We spent about 5mins watching the owls, taking as much pictures as possible. After the owl encounter, we moved on and saw an Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) perched high in the tree fast asleep, and that sums up our night boat safari.
Buffy Fish Owl
With the morning call of the rooster, we woke up at 6am, did a quick freshen up and headed down to the jetty for the morning river safari, with the jackpot prize of hoping to see a wild orang utan. Our first encounter was the Long-tailed Macaque (Macaca fascicularis) along the river bank, a common primate frequently seen around the camp. As we progress, we spotted the Asian Black Hornbill (Anthracoceros malayanus); it was foraging around a low branch which allows me to get a decent shot of it. Nearby, a pair of Dollar Bird (Eurystomus orientalis) perched high up a bare tree. We moved on and soon the guide spotted a Wallace’s Hawk Eagle (Nisaetus nanus), perched low on a tree branch above the water. We moved in for a closer look, and managed to get a few close ups on the beautiful raptor. The Wallace’s Hawk Eagle has suffered as a result of extensive forest loss owing to logging, conversion to plantations and agriculture, and major forest fires. As a result it is suspected to have declined rapidly. The population size is preliminarily estimated to fall around 3,500-15,000 individuals. We also spotted another large raptor, the White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) as we continued on. No orang utans were sighted until now, and we only managed to see a nest that was buillt by the great ape. The guide soon called it a day for the morning safari, but as we are heading back, more wildlife started to appear. A Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) was seen basking along the river bank half submerged in the water, and a group of Bornean Gibbons (Hylobates muelleri) was seen in the tree canopy. The last minute sightings sum up the morning safari and we headed back to camp for breakfast. After breakfast, we had a mini soccer match where the guides will team up against the tourist. I played my usual goalkeeper role, but we lost eventually. But it was a nice experience to play with the local people.
Asian Black Hornbill
Wallace’s Hawk Eagle:
After a short break, we started our next program which is jungle trekking in the forest. We headed out on the boat and got off on a muddy river bank, where we start our jungle trekking. We encountered small creatures such as Golden Ant, Common Greenback Frog (Hylarana erythraea), Red-legged Centipede, snails and plant species. After an hour of trekking, we headed back to camp for lunch. The whole afternoon was free and easy, so we headed back to our huts for some rest. While my friends took an afternoon nap, I decided to walk around the camp to look for some interesting stuff to photograph. Photos taken include the environment we stay, and some landscapes of trees.
Trees around our camp:
Our late afternoon river safari started at 5pm, and we headed out to look for Proboscis Monkey. We turned in from the main river into a smaller channel, called the LokanRiver, named after the LokanVillage where it was located. The village had about 200 inhabitants with schools in it. It wasn’t long before we saw the first Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus). However they were high up and the view were blocked . We decided to head further in to the river to look for more. Along the way, a trio of Bushy-crested Hornbills (Anorrhinus galeritus) flew above us across the river. We came to an area where there were lots of proboscis monkeys among the trees. As they slowly descended to a lower tree, I managed to get my first shots of the monkeys. Our guide, Ampung, pointed out the dominant male sitting comfortably in the trees, and kindly maneuvered the boat so that we could get a clear shot of it. At the same time, the guide spotted a Red Leaf Monkey (Presbytis rubicunda), or Maroon Langur, at the opposite side of the river bank. However, it was a backlit situation and I was unable to spot it, and turned my attention back to the proboscis monkey. We proceed further in and managed to see a female proboscis monkey and her young. The infant was cuddled with its mother and a short while later the mother began grooming its child. Midway through the grooming, the young proboscis began posing in what look like a body stretch with arms to the back of the head while the mother grooms it. It was a funny sight and the infant held that pose for a minute or so. Light began to disappear fast and it was hard to photograph the monkeys. We decided to call it a day and headed back to camp. On the way back, Malayan Flying Foxes (Pteropus vampyrus) began emerging to start another night. As we cruise, the bats flew above us in thousands. It was a wonderful sight seeing so many bats flying. The moon had also begun to emerge, and we came up with an idea of capturing the bats flying past the moon. After a few tries, I managed to get a pair of bats to fly beside the moon, winged spread and seemingly flying into the night sky.
Malayan Flying Fox
Dinner was served and later in the night we began our night jungle trekking. As we walk along the wooden boardwalk, we came across a pair of Bornean Blue Flycatchers (Cyornis superbus). Diurnal birds are blind in the night, so they kept still despite the guide shining torches at them. We were able to get close and I managed to get a picture of the pair. On the other side of the boardwalk, we spotted a Hooded Pitta (Pitta sordida) resting. We then proceed off the boardwalk and into the jungle to look for wildlife. We came across another bornean blue flycatcher, Giant Ant (Camponotus gigas), and White-chested Babbler (Trichastoma rostratum) . As the night jungle trek ended, a guide spotted a Black-backed Kingfisher (Ceyx erithaca) around the boardwalk area. We moved in to take a few pictures of the beautiful kingfisher, and sums up the day.
Frilled Tree Frog
Bornean Blue Flycatcher
On the final morning, I decided to take a shower, as previously I had been using powder and using wet tissue to wipe my body. There is no proper shower facility, just barrels of water that were pumped in from the river. It is an open area beside the closed toilet cubicle where everyone shares the same bathing area, regardless of sex. It was a wonderful feeling bathing in the open surrounded by forest and birds calling. Slowly you will see people come in to brush their teeth and shower (of course we are not totally naked!! Just in case you were wondering). We had breakfast and later went to pack our stuff before heading to the jetty for one last boat ride back to Ops base. Back in Ops base, we had lunch, chill around, and later bid goodbye to all the new made friends, and it was back to civilization.
Shower and toilet area
The Kinabatangan River contains one of Borneo’s highest concentration of wildlife. It consist of dryland dipterocarp forests, riverine forest, freshwater swamp forest, oxbow lakes and salty mangrove swamps near the coast. These rich habitats are home to a great variety of birdlife, reptiles, and mammals. Many species of animals are endangered, such as the indigenous Proboscis Monkey, Bornean Orang Utan, Bornean Pygmy Elephants, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Sunda Clouded Leopard, Bay Cat and the endemic Borneo River Shark.
The river has been under threat from excessive logging and land clearing for plantation and agriculture. The loss of habitat is threatening endangered species to extinction. Endemic species such as the Proboscis Money, Bornean Pygmy Elephants, Bornean River Shark and the Bornean Orang Utan can only be found on the island of Borneo and nowhere else on earth. The Sumatran Rhinoceros is hanging on by a thread and will go extinct if no immediate actions were done to save them. The Clouded Leopards on Borneo was declared a different species from the mainland Clouded Leopards in recent times and this calls for greater measure that these habitats are protected.
Organisations such as the World Land Trust are helping to protect the Kinabatangan River by raising funds for strategic land purchase to create wildlife corridors to link fragmented areas together. They are also working with the local people to engage them to protect their own forest, by employing them for research, habitat restoration and education teams.
You can help by giving donations as well http://www.worldlandtrust.org/projects/malaysia
List of animals sighted
2.Bornean Orang Utan (semi wild)
3.Southern Pig-tailed Macaque
5.Buffy Fish Owl
7.Oreintal Pied Hornbill
10.Bornean Blue Flycatcher
17.Common Greenback Frog
19.Wallace’s Hawk Eagle
20.White-bellied Sea Eagle
22.Frilled Tree Frog
23.Malayan Flying Fox
25.Red Leaf Monkey
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