Day 89 – (Hey Hey we’re) The Monkees

Whilst orangutans are rare, Borneo is not the only place in the world you can see them as they are also present in the Sumatra region of Indonesia.  The same cannot be said of an even rarer sight, the Proboscis monkey.  If you want to see one of these in the wild, then Borneo is the only place you can do it.  So today like yesterday, we head out in search of simians of the rarest kind.

It is apparently getting easier and easier to see the rare wildlife in Borneo, and this is due to the sad fact that the area of natural habitat that they live is getting smaller and smaller and therefore concentrating the animal populations.  In Borneo, the natural jungle habitat is being destroyed to make way for thousands and thousands of acres of palm plantations.

This commercial activity needs land, and lots of it, so large swaths of the landscape are now covered in neat rows of plantation palm trees.  The value of 1 wet tonne of the product is between 300-500RM (£55-£90) and therefore very attractive to the Malaysian population.   We were not really aware of the negative impacts of palm oil production prior to this trip, and would recommend people read the following articles to get some more information:

We were extremely impressed with the work and ethic of both the Orangutan and Sun Bear sanctuaries we saw the previous day, but I am not sure we feel altogether the same about the Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary at Labuk Bay.

As with the orangutans, there are specified feeding times and a couple of different viewing platforms from which you can see the animals.  But unlike the orangutans, where this was part of process to help rehabilitate animals back into the wild, here it appears to serve the sole purpose of guaranteeing that tourists can see the animals.

The 6 hectare natural jungle area was maintained by a plantation company, and in essence acts as an ecological island within which some of the indigenous Proboscis monkeys have been able to survive.  The size of the area is sufficient to provide food for a healthy population of animals, but the supplemented supply to ensure we get to see them probably makes them a bit lazy and I am not sure pancakes (albeit sugar-free) are the normal staple diet of any monkeys.

That said, whilst it might be easy to be critical of the approach taken, it is at least something to help preserve the animals, which is more than most of the plantations do.

Our exposure to the monkeys is a visceral experience, and far removed from the gentle orangutan observation.  There are only a small number of visitors to the first feeding we witness and the monkeys take over the platform.

In what we believe was a territorial battle between family groups and recently ousted bachelors, we see them thundering through and over the viewing area at high speed making thunderous noise with their arms and legs against the wood and corrugated metal.  They pass within in a few feet of you before launching themselves over the railings into the nearby trees – up close and personal they are a remarkably powerful animal.

Powerful they might be, but you wouldn’t describe them as cute in a traditional sense.  Ginger, pot-bellied and a slightly dodgy haircut would be enough to make them stand out, but then you add the rather remarkable long floppy nose and unmistakably permanently aroused state associated with the male and you have one of natures most remarkable mammals.

We complete our Sepilok animal adventure with an evening boat trip on the Kantanagan River, for a chance to get deep into the jungle to see animals truly in the wild.  With any trip of this kind, it’s down to luck for what you will see, and whilst we didn’t get to the see the extremely rare Pygmy Elephant or Orangutans, we did see Proboscis Monkeys, Horn billed birds, a monitor lizard and plenty of Macaque monkeys.  The evening was particularly enjoyable thanks to sharing it with Paul and Ann, a retired couple from Cheshire who were incredibly pleasant and entertaining company.

P.S. The “bargain” Ice watch that steamed up, was gaining a solid minute a day, and then the case cracked and the strap fell off.  Ho hum.


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